After Prince Harry and Meghan Markle issued a statement last weekend, sharing their “concerns” about Spotify’s star podcaster Joe Rogan disseminating COVID-19 misinformation, some on Twitter said the couple could have been doing more than just express those concerns.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, people said, could have made good on their reported $25 million deal with Spotify to produce podcasts in 2021, and their shows could have countered Rogan’s “dangerous” misinformation by providing scientifically valid information about COVID and vaccines.
Harry and Meghan haven’t, however, for reasons that remain mysterious. After releasing just one, 34-minute episode in December 2020, the couple “currently don’t have anything else in development with Spotify,” Vanity Fair writer Joe Pompeo reported Tuesday, citing a source familiar with the matter.
Vanity Fair confirmed reports last week indicating that Spotify was concerned about their lack of output. The reports said that Spotify was trying to get something in development with the couple by advertising for a team of three producers to work on a show with their Archewell Audio production company.
The couple’s dearth of episodes, especially in the wake of the Rogan controversy, also highlights the extent to which the provocative but prolific Rogan has become the “face” of Spotify podcasting and holds a lot of power. An audio industry insider told Vanity Fair that having Rogan “is like dropping a Taylor Swift album every day. Spotify needs him way more than he needs Spotify.”
Meanwhile, public relations experts told Newsweek that Harry and Meghan better start producing for both Spotify and Neftlix, and soon. In addition to their Spotify deal, the Sussexes, who left royal duties and moved from the UK to California in 2020, made big news by inking a multimillion-dollar deal with Netflix to produce documentaries, an animated series and other content.
So far, Netflix is still waiting for Harry’s “Heart of Invictus” series and only just began advertising for an in-house production designer to work on “Pearl,” Meghan’s idea for an animated series.
“It’s vitally important for Harry and Meghan to deliver here, not just due to the eye-watering contracts that they managed to negotiate, but also as a signal to other potential companies that they can be relied upon to execute on their promises, offer value for money and bring a return on investment,” Anthony Burr, of London-based Burr media, told Newsweek.
The focus on Harry and Meghan’s lack of output also comes as Spotify looks at its future in the world of podcasting, Vanity Fair reported. The music streaming service announced in 2019 that it would spend $500 million to become the largest podcast provider in the United States, the Washington Post reported. That included acquiring Gimlet Media and Bill Simmons’ The Ringer network, with its suite of popular podcasts.
Spotify also signed multimillion-dollars deals with “high-wattage” talent, such as Harry and Meghan, Barack and Michelle Obama and the controversial Rogan, with whom the company entered into an exclusive licensing agreement for a reported $100 million.
Thus far, Rogan is emerging as the Spotify star who is giving the platform its money’s worth, according to Vanity Fair. With his free-wheeling, provocative conversations, including with controversial figures in politics and medicine, his “The Joe Rogan Experience” has reached No. 1 on the platform in 2021. Each of his episodes, which he releases two or three times a week, attract an estimated 11 million listeners.
After Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and other artists said they would pull their music from the service, and Harry and Meghan expressed “concerns,” Rogan said he would do better research on COVID-19 and start including mainstream experts alongside guests who espouse more fringe opinions.
Not everyone was buying Rogan’s vow to do better. Sharon Stone on Wednesday ripped into him, telling TMZ that he is “risking people’s lives with his idiocy and his professing that his thoughts about COVID are opinions.” Stone, whose grandmother and godmother died of COVID, added, “infectious diseases are science, and they are fact-based situations, so the pretense that these are opinions is dangerous.”
But it doesn’t seem that Rogan is going anywhere, while Harry and Meghan, the Obamas and the company’s “other big-ticket deals haven’t gained the same kind of traction as Rogan,” Vanity Fair said. The Obamas produced “a few compelling shows, including one podcast hosted by Michelle Obama and another in which Barack Obama teamed up with Bruce Springsteen,” Vanity Fair reported. The last of Michelle Obama’s 11 episodes aired in April.
“The buzz around these efforts has paled in comparison to the couples’ best-selling memoirs, or even the award-winning features” they’ve produced for Netflix, Pompeo reported.
It’s possible that Obamas realized that their podcasting interests don’t align with Spotify’s, Vanity Fair said. “They are more interested in lifting young new voices than carrying shows themselves,” Pompeo added.
This issue of “alignment” could explain why Harry and Meghan haven’t pulled together a single new podcast episode since 2020. Perhaps they wanted others to do some of the hosting duties. When they announced the their deal with Spotify in 2020, the couple said that they, too, wanted to “uplift and entertain” by “highlighting diverse perspectives and voices.”
Observers of the Sussexes have suggested that their fans won’t be that interested in their podcasts unless they headline the podcasts and offer insight into their personal lives.
The more cynical of these observers say that people aren’t going to listen to a Sussex podcast unless they dish dirt on the British royal family. To them, the Sussexes’ can only generate global interest through their connection with the royal family.
These cynics furthermore say that only the most dedicated fans will clamor for their “uplifting” content about their philanthropic endeavors. Their sole episode offered uplifting content, but in the form of anodyne testimonials from the couple’s celebrity friends about coping with life during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. The real excitement came when listeners were allowed to hear their son Archie speak for the first time and say “Happy New Year.”
These cynics also wonder if the Rogan controversy will give Harry and Meghan a way to delay or even bail on their Spotify commitments, all while saving face. They note that the couple’s statement, released by their spokesperson, makes the claim that they had begun addressing their concerns to Spotify back in April.
“Last April, our co-founders began expressing concerns to our partners at Spotify about the all too real consequences of COVID-19 misinformation on its platform,” the spokesperson said. “We look to Spotify to meet this moment and are committed to continuing our work together as it does.”
“By releasing this statement, they’ve backdated their issues with Spotify and given a reason for why there wasn’t any content this past year,” one person said on Twitter. “And now when someone searches H&M and Spotify, these articles will pull up instead of the recent ones regarding their lack of work output.”
someone else added: “The Spotify backlash right now would be a great excuse not to produce content but they don’t want to give any money back. Quite the bind, isn’t it?”
Still another person said, “Haha, if Harry & Meghan were REALLY concerned about vaccine misinformation they could have, I dunno, actually produced a podcast(s) on the very subject. But that would imply doing work/accomplishing something.”