President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s production company, Higher Ground, has jumped into the podcast business. Their latest content play is part of a multiyear alliance with Spotify. Speaking at the Brilliant Minds conference this week in Stockholm, organized by Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, the former President credited another podcaster for opening him up to the potential of the audio format.
“I talked to Malcolm Gladwell about this,” said Obama. “He’s a brilliant writer, but he said people are somehow a little bit more open-minded when they’re listening to something.” Gladwell is the journalist and author who co-founded Pushkin. He’s also the host of the Revisionist History podcast. “When you hear the voice of somebody who’s telling their story, even if they have a different perspective, you listen and take it in,” Obama continued. “You’re more likely to hear their story.”
NBC News reports he told the conference that the audio format offer a more nuanced and forgiving format than video or the written word. “There’s something about the human voice and stories that are told — the visual is powerful but sometimes overwhelms and the brain short circuits,” said Obama.
But while NBC media columnist Dylan Byers says podcasting is a “perfect antidote” to the “intolerance of social media and cable news,” there are outstanding questions about whether Spotify’s multimillion dollar investment in the Obamas will pay off. Since the former first couple has said they want to use their position to promote new voices, the podcast may not always feature either of the two big names that attract listeners in the first place. Byers said President Obama spoke in a “dispassionate” style at the conference and didn't seem terribly inspired by the words coming out of his mouth. “The Obamas can just put their names on the shows and the podcasts and cash the checks. But that would be a move far more befitting of the current White House incumbent than the previous one,” Byers added.
Higher Ground was launched last year by the Obamas and its initial partnership was with Netflix. But the company says by expanding to audio will allow it to expand its reach to a larger and more diverse audience. Spotify has more than 217 million monthly active users around the globe, of which more than 100 million subscribe to receive ad-free content. Financial terms of the alliance between Spotify and Higher Ground weren’t released.