Spotify’s Shifting Podcast Strategy Focuses on Partnering With Big Media

Spotify's leadership said earlier this year the company will focus on "partnerships efforts."

Spotify's Chief Public Affairs Officer, Dustee Jenkins and Call Her Daddy Host, Creator and Executive Producer, Alex Cooper
Spotify is partnering with Instagram and creator Alex Cooper’s Unwell Network on a new podcast called “Close Friends Only.” (L) Spotify’s Chief Public Affairs Officer, Dustee Jenkins and (R) Alex Cooper. Antony Jones/Getty Images for Spotify

Under its new head of podcast business, Sahar Elhabashi, Spotify is exploring a new strategy in the podcast space that focuses on reducing in-house production and partnering with established media companies such as Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) and Meta (META).

The music streamer today (Dec.12) announced a deal with WBD that will host and distribute popular podcasts including HBO’s The Official Game of Thrones Podcast: House of the Dragon and CNN’s All There Is with Anderson Cooper through Spotify’s audio platform Megaphone. Last week (Dec. 7), Spotify struck a partnership with Meta to launch Instagram’s first branded podcast through Spotify. The podcast is called Close Friends Only, named after Instagram’s “close friends” feature that allows users to limit stories and feed posts to an exclusive group of followers. The first episode of Close Friends Only, produced by Alex Cooper’s Unwell Network, was co-hosted by rappers Doja Cat and Ice Spice, on par with the show’s description of bringing its audience the “latest on culture” from “all your favorite celebrities.”

Elhabashi, a former Conde Nast executive who led Spotify’s content business for five years, was appointed the music streamer’s head of podcast business in January. In June, she laid off about 200 podcast employees and merged two of Spotify’s podcast studios, Gimlet and Parcast, into one. In a statement at the time, she said Spotify is expanding its partnerships “with leading podcasters from across the globe with a tailored approach optimized for each show and creator.” 

“This fundamental pivot from a more uniform proposition will allow us to support the creator community better,” Elhabashi said in the statement.

Earlier signs of Spotify’s step back from in-house podcast programming included the firing of Dawn Ostroff, who led podcast expansion, in January and the three rounds of layoffs this year that all affected the company’s podcasting team. Last week, shortly after CEO Daniel Ek announced Spotify’s latest round of layoffs, the company said it would not renew contracts with two critically-acclaimed podcasts produced by Gimlet, Heavyweight and Stolen

Spotify’s latest podcast partnership with WBD is also the latest milestone in the music streamer’s collaborative effort with the media giant running back three years. In 2020, the two companies inked a multi-year contract for Spotify to build narrative-scripted podcasts for DC Comics, resulting in shows like Batman Unburied and Harley Quinn and The Joker: Sound Mind.  

Spotify’s Shifting Podcast Strategy Focuses on Partnering With Big Media