Does Exclusivity Work in Podcasting?


News that Joe Rogan will take his popular podcast to Spotify in a multiyear licensing agreement starting in September represents the biggest gamble on exclusivity in the podcast industry to date. Rogan said last year his podcast has about 190 million downloads per month across a variety of listening apps, including Apple, iHeartRadio and Stitcher. But under the deal, which the Wall Street Journal reported is worth more than $100 million, “The Joe Rogan Experience” will only be found on Spotify, meaning for the vast majority of podcast listeners who don’t use that app, his eleven-year-old show will disappear.


“What Joe Rogan is going to find out — after it’s too late — is that moving an existing, open, free show behind a propriety wall results in massive audience loss,” Overcast founder Marco Arment said in a Twittter post, which added, “I hope he at least leaves his public feed up so he can return to it when his Spotify exclusivity fails.”


Rogan, 52, has developed a loyal fan base and comparisons to Howard Stern, who brought many of his listeners to satellite radio when he abandoned the FM dial. But while Stern is said to have earned as much as $100 million per year at SiriusXM, his now three-day-a-week show doesn’t create the same buzz it once did while on broadcast radio. And unlike Rogan, whose show is supported by advertising, SiriusXM monetized the deal through subscription sales. Spotify doesn’t plan a similar move, saying the Joe Rogan Experience will remain free and accessible to all Spotify users. That could help keep advertisers like 23andMe, Dollar Shave Club and ZipRecruiter in the fold if download numbers shrink. Spotify could also open the podcast to some of its other clients that don’t currently buy Rogan’s show. Forbes has estimated that Rogan’s show has about $30 million in annual advertising sales.


Other shows have already tried the exclusive route and hit reverse. When Serial released its second season in 2015 it struck a deal to be available only on Pandora. But after seeing its downloads drop and its buzz fade from the show’s breakout first season, Serial Productions reopened distribution on the third season more broadly to other podcast-listening apps.


Some podcasters had already been chafing at the idea that Spotify aims to play a gatekeeper role in an industry that so far has been ruled by shows being available in as many places as possible. That worry increased when Spotify struck a deal to pay as much as $200 million to acquire The Ringer earlier this year. And because Rogan has been a tentpole show for many apps, his loss could have a larger impact on the industry overall than a typical podcast moving to a new publisher would have.


“The Joe Rogan Experience” will continue to be hosted by Libsyn until September.


The deal will not just have an impact on podcasters, but also Google’s YouTube, where the podcast has been posting video versions. Spotify said it will continue to release “vodcasts” or video clips of the show on its own app, but entire video simulcasts will no longer be available.


For his part, Rogan said he won’t become a Spotify employee; the music service is simply licensing the podcast. “It will be the exact same show — I am not going to be an employee of Spotify; we will be working with the exact same crew,” Rogan said in the announcement. “The only difference is that it will now be available on the largest audio platform in the world.”


Rogan said that starting September 1 his podcast would become available on Spotify and remain on other listening apps, and then by the end of the year the show would only be found on Spotify.


The Rogan deal also represents a gamble for Spotify. It values the content produced by a single show at roughly the same price tag as its acquisition of The Ringer and twice the $56 million paid for the acquisition of the content studio Parcast last year. And it’s nearly as much as the $150 million it paid to buy Anchor FM, the software company podcasters use to create and distribute their shows. The biggest difference with Rogan is that Spotify is essentially renting the content for a set period of time. But the company is clearly hoping Rogan fans, mostly men will find other podcasts they like and spend more time on its app.


“Long-term music is a commodity, so if Spotify can have exclusive podcasts to differentiate themselves, that’s worth a lot,” one media investor told NBC.


But Spotify has inked other deals with individual shows. Last fall it struck a deal to make the indie The Last Podcast on the Left an exclusive to its lineup starting in 2020. The weekly show pairs co-host and producer Ben Kissel, researcher Marcus Parks, and comedian and actor Henry Zebrowski. The show covers “dark subjects” such as serial killings, cults, hauntings, and horror.

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