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Podcast Exclusivity-The Pros and Cons and Everything in Between

We are more than halfway through 2020 and what a year it has been! Conspiracy theories, civil unrest, and natural disasters, all taking place against the backdrop of a global pandemic would all make for a great new Steven Spielberg cinematic release, but certainly not a great “live experience” no matter where you are in the world. Every industry has experienced tumultuous changes, whether good or bad or a little bit of both, as they try to navigate and find their feet within all that the first year in a new decade has thrown at them. The podcasting industry is no exception, and it has seen it’s fair share of significant changes in the first few short months of 2020. From a surge in popularity and massive acquisition deals to a whole bunch of canceled and postponed podcasting events, things are certainly happening in the industry and within the medium as a whole

 So first up, let’s just have a quick recap of some of the latest power plays that have happened within the industry which seem to hint at a move to podcast exclusivity.

1. The Launch of Luminary

Luminary attempted a move towards exclusivity when it launched in April last year¹. Likened by many as the platform’s plan to become the Netflix or Hulu of podcasts, the business model offered its listeners exclusive content from some big names such as Trevor Noah and Russel Brand for a monthly subscription fee. Its reception can be described as controversial at best, but the fact remains that it was a definite, albeit arguably unsuccessful, attempt at moving the podcasting industry in the direction of paid television subscriptions which offers its desirable content only to those who subscribe.

2. The Dominance of Spotify

Obviously, no discussion regarding podcast exclusivity is complete without mentioning the current King in securing exclusive podcasts deals, Spotify. It is certainly no secret that Spotify has its sights set on knocking Apple out of the top spot when it comes to audio content distribution. The company has already dished a cool couple hundred million dollars on securing exclusive deals with some massive stars, as well as the $600 million they spent purchasing Gimlet Media and the Ringer, Parcast, and Anchor.² By all reports, Spotify claims that it has the fastest-growing audio-oriented audience, and this is seemingly linked to their development of and financial investment into the podcasting side of their platform. Their modus operandi over the past couple of months has been to sign lucrative, exclusive deals with names that carry some serious superstar power in order to intensify their pull on the listener’s ear towards their platform.

1. The Obamas

Equivalent to royalty, former U.S. President, Barack Obama and his wife Michelle signed a multi-year contract with Spotify last year³. Through their production company, they are set to release a number of podcasts that will be available solely through Spotify. Their name alone promises to be a massive drawcard bringing listeners to the platform.

2. Kim Kardashian West

Royalty of a different kind, Kim Kardashian West has also landed a deal with Spotify to launch her own podcast⁴. The two things we know so far about this deal is that the podcast itself will be focused on criminal justice and that it will only be available on Spotify.  Yet another strategic move by Spotify to occupy more of the podcasting space.

3. Joe Rogan

Spotify’s major play towards dominating the podcasting space was their jaw-dropping exclusive deal they sinched with Joe Rogan. This acquisition and all it entails is possibly one of the biggest developments to take place in the world of podcasting this year. While all the nitty-gritty details have not been confirmed, what we do know is that come the end of 2020, both the Joe Rogan Podcast, as well as all his content on his YouTube channel will be available exclusively on Spotify. So if you’re one of his devoted fans, the only way to gain access to any Joe Rogan content will be through signing up to Spotify. 

This trifecta acquisition of some of the biggest celebrities on the planet – and there are a couple of other big names on Spotify’s ever-growing list – can only be seen as their desire to rule and reign in the podcasting industry. These acquisitions are big moves on the part of Spotify  – both strategically and financially  –  and savor strongly of their desire to garner the biggest podcasting audience. But just what does this mean for the future of podcasting? And how will these affect the way podcasters do things in the months to come? Let’s briefly explore these angles…

What Does Exclusivity Mean for the Future of Podcasting?

So what exactly do all of these moves, deals, and acquisitions mean for the podcasting industry? Well, it is, overall, uncharted territory, so it is difficult to say definitively what the future may hold. But in order to make some heads and tails of what the podcasting landscape may potentially look like, we’ve penned our list of hypothetical pros and cons (I know, very Gilmore Girls!) to help us get even a vague look of what the ripple effects of all these moves could mean for the industry over the next couple of months.

Potential Pros

First up, the pros. These three points are what we deem to be some of the positives that may arise should the push towards podcast exclusivity succeed.

1. Podcast Prestige

The fact that media stakeholders such as Spotify are willing to invest the aforementioned $600,000 (and counting!) into the podcasting side of their platform would seem to indicate that they believe that podcasting will be, quite possibly, the new frontier of entertainment. (We believe it too, but we may be a little biased!) But with so much capital being invested into the industry, we would say it’s definitely a stamp of approval in favor of the clout the podcasting industry could soon wield. 

2. Outstanding Content

Another item we would most certainly put down as a “pro” is that a possible fight for dominance in the podcasting sphere would lead to our ears being on the receiving end of some stellar content. Any bid for ultimate power and glory would likely result in a little “one-upmanship” in an attempt to win over the listeners, which could mean some fantastic content or new hosts or shows heading our way for our enjoyment.  

3. Wins For The Industry

In general, no matter what happens in the future, all this interest as well as all the movers and shakers making their plays, and all the new content that could potentially be created, the real winner is the listener. Yes, there are and will be people making fairly substantial sums of money if this trend continues on the up, but it is the listener that will be the real winner. And in the podcasting industry, when the listener wins, everyone in the industry wins. From the hosts to the content creators, editors to the artists, growth in the industry would certainly be advantageous to everyone within the industry.

Possible Cons

And now, some of the cons we can envision resulting from a push towards podcast exclusivity.

1. Overloading on Podcast Apps

One possible con we see from this whole set up is that the consumer may have to subscribe to a whole host of platforms and download a plethora of apps. Should some of your favorite shows sign exclusive deals with different key players, you as the consumer may be forced to sign up to, and pay for, multiple platforms and fill your home screen with a number of apps in order to get your ears on that premium content. Not only could this end up being an expensive endeavor, but it could also just be really frustrating having to build up your listening library on a number of apps and then having to switch between them, depending on what you’re in the mood for.  

2. Monopoly Dangers

Since its inception, the podcasting medium can be characterized by being an open, decentralized system, which absolutely anybody and everybody could join. As such, there is currently a lot of diversity when it comes to how and where listeners can consume content, as well as a whole host of podcasting apps available. Should one or two platforms try to monopolize the podcasting sphere, they may be able to hold all the power within the field. This could mean that they alone may be able to make some pretty big decisions that will shape the industry, for better or for worse. 

3. Detrimental for Independent Podcasters

Our last “con” looks at what the future of independent podcasters may be like if the podcasting industry does go the way of streaming TV, where the listeners having to pay to gain access to the content they’re after. If this does happen, independent podcasters may be completely dominated by the mainstream players who could essentially take control of the airwaves, and the “openness” by which the industry has often been characterized may be lost or terribly tainted.

If you’re looking for some more insight into this, check out the discussion on Episode 26 of the Buzzcast podcast. There’s plenty of interesting takeaways and loads of food for thought. 

Closing Thoughts

Although these thoughts or predications are, on the whole, mere speculations and educated guesses, all of these recent developments and the high-priced exclusive acquisitions give much food for thought when it comes to the future of podcasting as well as the landscape of the industry as a whole. Whether all that has transpired and all the deals in the pipeline from some of the key players in the audio realm will end up changing the way the land currently lies, only time will tell. But if this truly unprecedented year is anything to go by, there is absolutely no way to really predict what will happen in the future. One thing that we can predict, however, is that hard work, determination, and continually giving your best will never go out of style and will always produce an end product that you can be proud of. Our advice? Continually focus on making your podcast the best that it can possibly be, and no matter what the future holds, and wherever you find yourself sharing your valuable content in the days to come, through your commitment to high-quality episodes and listener engagement, you’ll build a loyal audience that will follow you wherever it is that you decide to go. 

Related read: How to Build a Strong Podcast Community


1. The Verge:

2. The Washington Post:

3. The Verge:

4. The Verge:

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