Podcasting’s all-stars are here to stay

Illustration of an audio sound wave
Image: The Verge

It’s been a big week for podcast deals! I look forward to sleeping it off this weekend.

Why did SiriusXM give SmartLess a $100 million deal? Look at its subscriber losses.

It’s been a massive week for podcast deals, including SiriusXM signing SmartLess away from Amazon’s Wondery for more than $100 million. The news broke soon before SiriusXM released its annual earnings for 2023 in which the company reported a drop of 430,000 subscribers over the course of 2023 (despite how allegedly difficult it is to cancel a subscription).

As audiences drift away from satellite radio, SiriusXM is under pressure to keep younger audiences engaged. Last year, it debuted its new integrated app and a $9.99 per month streaming-only tier. And while the company does not have an exclusivity strategy with its podcasts, it does often tap its podcasters like Conan O’Brien and the hosts of Pod Save America for satellite-only content.

Importantly, podcast ad revenue is seen as a growth area, even if it is not nearly as high-margin as subscription. Podcast revenue increased 22 percent year over year (which, given how awful a year 2023 was for the industry, is not too shabby).

And they may be right to bet on SmartLess, which has been a stable hit since it debuted in 2020. Chief content officer Scott Greenstein said in an investor call that although podcasting is still a relatively new industry, “it’s starting to shake out in a reminiscent way of terrestrial radio and some other things. The top 10 in podcasting largely has stayed the same for a while. And by all the charts, you know, we have three of the top 10, some four of the top 10. We’re averaging about 175 million monthly downloads in that network.”

He has a point! Rogan (see above) is still No. 1. The other chart toppers (The Daily, Crime Junkie, This American Life, etc.) have been consistent. Only This Past Weekend w/ Theo Von counts as a newcomer. Even if podcasting has not been the gold rush everyone has been predicting, at least it has become reasonably predictable.

Joe Rogan’s sticking with Spotify — for $250 million

The Hot Pod audience is not likely to be surprised: Rogan, still untouchable as the No. 1 podcaster in the world, has resigned with Spotify. The new multiyear deal will allow his show, which is currently exclusive to the streamer, to be distributed to YouTube, Apple, and other podcasting platforms.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed by Spotify, but The Wall Street Journal reports that the deal is estimated to be worth $250 million, including ad revenue share. His previous deal was estimated to be worth between $100 million and $200 million over three years.

The announcement confirms what insiders told The Verge last year, which is that Rogan would be likely to stay, but with greater flexibility. Even while being exclusive to Spotify, Rogan managed to have the No. 1 podcast in the world. With the new arrangement, during an election year, no less, it seems likely his listenership (and ad revenue) will only grow. Once his show gets wide distribution, Spotify will no longer have any podcasts exclusive to the platform.

The news comes shortly after Spotify announced Call Her Daddy is getting wide distribution as well. A key difference is that Call Her Daddy’s video will still be exclusive to Spotify, while Rogan’s videos will be available on YouTube (where his show previously did massive numbers).

With Rogan finally becoming widely available, Spotify is officially done with exclusivity for now. The strategy was widely criticized by staffers formerly at Gimlet and Parcast, where shows floundered under the exclusive model. But the other big strategy it pursued — managing the distribution and ad sales for podcasting’s biggest stars — is here to stay, at least for the next few years or so.

That’s all for now. Have a great weekend.