Spotify to drop Gimlet exclusivity to increase audience and ad sales

Podcasts to be distributed more widely on a “case by case” basis

Spotify will be relinquishing the exclusivity for some of its Gimlet original podcasts, the company has confirmed, in order to grow its ad sales and broaden its audience. 

The news was first reported by global news platform Semafor, with Gimlet staff supposedly told by Spotify that the company was planning to move some of its shows to other audio platforms in the coming months. PodPod has also reached out to Spotify for comment. 

“Given our position as the leading global podcast platform, we are expanding our windowing strategies to increase the audiences and ad sales potential of our shows," a spokesperson said. "In this case, we’re pursuing broad distribution for some of our original podcasts like Science Vs. This will be done on a case by case basis and over time.”

The Science Vs podcast, along with a number of other Gimlet podcast originals such as the now-discontinued Reply All, moved exclusively to the streaming service in 2019 after Spotify acquired the Gimlet podcast network. It was later reported that the acquisition deal between Spotify and Gimlet was worth $230 million. 

In October 2022, the Gimlet Union, alongside union employees from Parcast - another podcast network that Spotify acquired in 2019 - criticised the decision to lay off “at least” 38 employees across these studios and cancel 11 original podcasts due to low performance. 

The unions blamed the low performance numbers on the company’s decision to make their shows exclusive to the platform, which caused a “steep drop” in listener numbers - reportedly as high as three-quarters for some of the shows. 

“The company did little or nothing to staunch the bleeding,” the unions said. “Shows languished without marketing support, and teams were not given clear audience goals to meet.”

Although the company did not directly respond to the unions’ statement, Spotify former chief content and advertising business officer Dawn Ostroff told Variety in an interview released in December last year that the company will continue to make similar cuts in the future on a “regular basis” if the shows are underperforming. 

One month after this interview, Spotify revealed that Ostroff will be departing from the company as CEO Daniel Ek announced that they will be laying off 6% of their staff workforce in an effort to reduce costs and improve efficiencies. It was later revealed in Spotify’s Q4 2022 report that the company has overinvested in the podcasting space with its acquisitions and exclusivity deals which led to €224m (£198m) in operating loss income.

As podcasters have started to move away from being exclusive to platforms, numerous podcasters have decided to opt out of renewing deals with Spotify, including award-winning psychology podcast Where Should We Begin? with Esther Perel which was acquired by Vox Media’s podcast network in March, three years after the podcast signed an exclusive deal with Spotify

Similarly, the Obamas’ Higher Ground audio and media company also ended its exclusivity contract with Spotify in October 2022 and has since moved to Audible in order to make its content more accessible to a wider audience. 

In 2020, Spotify signed a $200 million exclusivity deal with The Joe Rogan Experience podcast which, according to Nieman Lab, currently has an average of 190 million monthly downloads. According to The New York Times, the contract is expected to expire after three and a half years, although there has been no update from either Rogan or Spotify on whether the deal is expected to be renewed.