Spotify CEO acknowledges that more was expected from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s podcast

In an interview with the BBC, Daniel Ek explained in a diplomatic tone that the company thought there would be ‘more innovation’ in the royal couple’s interviews — a far cry from earlier criticism that they were ‘grifters’

Meghan Markle y el príncipe Enrique de Inglaterra
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry during a sporting event in Düsseldorf (Germany), last September 16.Joshua Sammer (Getty Images)
María Porcel

When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle decided to step back as active members of the British royal family, most of their privileges ended. Among them, having a free residence (or many) and a salary as a member of the royal household. As they set up home in California, in order to make up for these lost privileges, the royal couple partnered with big brands that provided them with juicy income, from Netflix to Spotify. But in the three and a half years since they left England, some of those contracts have fallen apart. The most striking deal to collapse was the royal couple’s partnership with Spotify, which was worth between $20 and $25 million. The agreement was signed at the end of 2020 and was intended to be long-term. However, after an unsuccessful project and two and a half years of collaboration, it came to an abrupt end last June. No one gave any explanations, at least not officially. Until now.

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek addressed the issue in an interview with the BBC, in which he also discussed issues such as AI-generated music and the future of podcasts. He said that Spotify was trying to position itself as a global leader in podcast, and that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex were meant to be the standard-bearer of the mission. But the company does not seem to be satisfied with what they produced: an interview podcast called Archetypes, a play on words between the name of their eldest son, Archie, and his foundation, Archewell.

In the interview, journalist Zoe Kleinman asks Ek: “You had some big names, you had the Obamas, you had the Duke and Duchess of Sussex — they released 12 podcasts in two and half years. Was that worth £18 million [$22 million]?”

In his response, which Kleinman described as “very diplomatic,” the 40-year-old Ek said: “We thought new innovation was needed to happen here. We thought we can come in and offer a great experience that both makes consumers very happy and allows new creators new avenues.” He continued: “And the truth of the matter is some of it has worked, some of it hasn’t. We’re learning from those and we are moving on and we wish all of the ones we didn’t renew with the best of success they can have going forward.”

In this way, Ek suggested that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s podcast did not have the innovation they were looking for, nor did it make listeners happy.

In December 2020, the couple — together with their audio company, Archewell Audio — gave a short presentation of their project and showed a half-hour Christmas special with guests such as Sir Elton John and Spanish-American chef José Andrés. The interviews started in August 2022, ended three months later and took up a total of 12 episodes.

While Prince Harry stepped back from the project, Markle became the main interviewer of the podcast, which aimed to “investigate, dissect and subvert the labels that try to hold women back.” In the interview, the Duchess spoke with leading figures such as the tennis player Serena Williams, singer Mariah Carey, actress Issa Rae, the then wife of the Canadian prime minister, Sophie Trudeau; Sex and the City writer Candace Bushnell and comedian Judd Apatow. All 12 episodes are still available on Spotify. They have 67,000 streams.

The Spotify co-founder is the first person to give an official explanation for why the deal was dropped, but not the first to speak out about the podcast. Earlier this year, American journalist and presenter Bill Simmons — the Head of Podcast Innovation and Monetization at Spotify — criticized the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in his show The Bill Simmons Podcast. He said he felt “embarrassed” to work at Spotify alongside the youngest son of King Charles III.

“What does he do? It’s one of those things where it’s like, what’s your talent. Why are we listening to you? So you were born in a royal family and then you left… Nobody cares what you have to say about anything unless you talk about the royal family, and you just complain about them,” he said.

At the end of June, shortly after the royal couple’s deal with Spotify ended, Simmons went further. “Fucking grifters — that’s the podcast they should have launched… One night I’ll get drunk and tell the story of my Zoom call with Harry. I was trying to help him get a podcast off the ground. It’s one of my best stories,” he said.

Daniel Ek, durante un evento en Cannes (Francia), en una imagen de archivo.
Daniel Ek at an event in Cannes (France), in a file photo.Antoine Antoniol (Getty Images)

Bloomberg journalist Ashley Carman investigated the couple’s work on the podcast and also came to the conclusion that they had not come up with many creative ideas. “Harry listened to various ideas from others but mostly stuck by his own — including one about childhood trauma. The concept: Harry would interview a procession of controversial guests, such as [Russian President] Vladimir Putin, [Facebook founder] Mark Zuckerberg and [former U.S. president] Donald Trump, about their early formative years and how those experiences resulted in the adults they are today.” Ideas some might describe as bizarre and unrealizable.

Added to this is the fact that Spotify, like so many other tech companies, particularly in the audio sector, is experiencing a difficult moment. In January, Ek acknowledged that they had been “too ambitious in investing ahead of our revenue growth” and laid off 6% of the workforce, around 600 people. The redundancy payouts cost between $38 million and $47 million. In June, they said goodbye to another 200 employees. And after putting their money behind content with renowned celebrities, but high costs, the company has seen that this has not delivered the expected results.

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