Just ahead of its third anniversary, the subscription podcast platform Luminary is bringing in a new chief executive as well as new investor, comedian Dave Chappelle’s Pilot Boy Productions. The moves come as podcast subscriptions, something thought of as an anathema when Luminary launched in 2019, have increasingly been embraced by the industry.
Rishi Malhotra – co-founder and former CEO of the Indian streaming music service JioSaavn, and Vice President at HBO – has joined Luminary as its new CEO. The company says he will “shape its new vision” as a platform for the world’s most thoughtful talent.
“We are developing new original programming with particular focus on the luminaries of music, sports and comedy,” said Malhotra in a statement. “We are going beyond subscriptions to deliver products that connect fans more uniquely to creators.”
When it launched with a reported $100 million in investments, many podcasters scoffed at the idea of convincing listeners to pay for a medium that for its first two decades had been free. Luminary did little to dissuade that thinking, as it has struggled to sign up paid users. Bloomberg reports it now has a “couple hundred thousand” paying subscribers.
Luminary did get some much-needed validation when it launched a subscription channel on Apple Podcasts last year. By year end, Apple said Luminary had the second most popular subscription channel -- topped only by Wondery+.
Malhotra sees promise in Luminary’s model, as long as it has the right mix of shows.
“Luminary is a one-of-a-kind company that is becoming the home for artists with a unique point of view, from Dave Chappelle and Roxane Gay to Russell Brand, Lena Dunham, and Guy Raz. We are developing new original programming with particular focus on the luminaries of music, sports and comedy,” said Malhotra. “In my view, we are at a crossroads of shaping new media that entertains, educates, and elevates us. The Midnight Miracle is an example of a new audio format in every way. It’s not just podcasts anymore. It’s Luminary.” he added.
Created last year by Chappelle, Talib Kweli and Yasiin Bey, The Midnight Miracle is called a “salon style show” that offers a variety show of Chappelle and a cast of comedians, musicians, and other artists with conversations, punctuated with sketches, impersonations, and archival audio clips. The trio has also served as executive producers of other audio content at Luminary.
Chappelle is now making an undisclosed investment into the company.
The company also announced that Chappelle’s Pilot Boy Productions will take a seat on the Luminary board, which will be filled by civil rights activist and social investor Ben Jealous.
“I chose Luminary because they value artists and share my vision for re-imagining audio content. The Midnight Miracle and our unique format is changing the podcast experience,” said Chappelle. “At Luminary, we are creating an authentic space for inspired artists to develop and share their original content,” he added.
Malhotra founded the Indian music streaming service Saavn in 2008, creating a company that was valued at $1.5 billion when it merged with telco giant Jio. Prior to founding Saavn, Malhotra served as a Vice President at HBO, and from 2003 to 2008 he built and launched HBO On Demand, and also worked on the HBO series “The Wire.”
“We are honored that this world-class group of leaders are joining to push Luminary into our next stage of growth," said Matt Sacks, Luminary Executive Chairman. “Rishi has proven his ability to build a differentiated audio streaming company with unique creative sensibilities. We are equally proud to have a creator partner like Dave Chappelle demonstrating his belief in our vision by investing in Luminary’s future,” he added.
Malhotra succeeds Simon Sutton, also a former HBO executive, who joined the podcast company in Oct. 2019 to take over day-to-day management from Sacks, the company’s founder. Sutton informed Luminary at the end of 2021 that he would be leaving his position. He will remain on Luminary’s board.
Luminary also announced it is adding two additional new members in addition to Jealous – Heather Hiles, Managing Partner at Black Ops Ventures, the first VC fund built to invest in tech startups founded exclusively by Black entrepreneurs; and Mara Buxbam, President of the entertainment industry publicity firm ID.