Prince Harry and Meghan Markle signed an £18million deal with Spotify to produce podcasts in December 2020 – but just over a year later, they’ve still only produced just one episode. In December 2020, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their exclusive deal with Spotify to much fanfare. The streaming giant confirmed the royal pair would produce and host podcasts that “uplifts and entertains audiences around the world” and feature “diverse perspectives and voices”.
The deal is reportedly worth £18million and within days a trailer for the series, called Archewell Audio, was released. It was followed by a ‘holiday special’ episode lasting just over 33 minutes weeks later, with guests including James Corden and Sir Elton John. However, since then, there has been radio silence despite Spotify saying the “first complete series” was expected to drop in 2021. Here we take a look inside the multi-million-pound deal that seems to have gone sour…
Signing the deal
News of Harry and Meghan’s deal with Spotify first came in December 2020. It followed them also signing an exclusive multi-year production deal for TV programming with Netflix having stepped back from royal duties earlier that year. At the time the partnership was announced, it was revealed that the couple’s newly formed Archewell Audio would produce programming that “uplifts and entertains audiences around the world” and features “diverse perspectives and voices”.
In the trailer for the podcast, it opens with Harry saying: “Shall we start? Ladies first?” Before Meghan adds: “No, say it because I think it sounds really nice with your accent.” They then go on to introduce Archewell Audio. Meghan explains: “One of the things my husband and I have always talked about is our passion for meeting people and hearing their stories. “And no matter what the story, they usually offer you an understanding of where someone else is coming from and at the same time remind you in some way of a story about yourself.”
Harry then continues: “And that’s what this project is all about, to bring forward different perspectives and voices that perhaps you haven’t heard before and find our common ground. “When that happens, change really is possible”.
Around two weeks after the deal was announced, Archewell Audio’s first full-length podcast – a holiday special – dropped. It included interviews with a number of impressive guests, including Sir Elton John and James Corden, but they saved the most special until the end. The proud parents brought their son Archie to the microphone, with Harry saying: “You can speak into it”. Meghan then asks: “Archie is it fun?” and he repeats the word “fun”. The tot then copies his dad to say “Happy New Year”, followed by an adorable giggle.
The podcast show notes description read: “As we come to the end of the year, Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex, and Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex, present a special collection of inspiration, reflection, and perspective from guests around the world, including Stacey Abrams, Christina Adane, José Andrés, Brené Brown, Rachel Cargle, Deepak Chopra, James Corden, Matt Haig, Sir Elton John, Hussain Manawer, Naomi Osaka, Tyler Perry, and George the Poet (plus a surprise or two). “Curated throughout the month of December, join them as they reflect on the year, speak openly about the power of compassion, and toast to a hopeful 2021.”
Wait for content
However, following the holiday special, there has been no more episodes from Archewell Audio. This means the total running time of their podcast so far has been 35 minutes and 26 seconds. This means the podcast has cost around £500,000-a-minute for the content produced so far. Last year in June, the couple welcomed their baby daughter Lilibet and after her birth, they both took several months of parental leave.
However, at the time, industry sources insisted the deal was still on track saying information on the next episode was expected later in the year. It was later reported that the couple had been given a “gentle nudge” to produce more content .One source told the Sun : “Spotify were delighted when they signed the couple, but the lack of content has mystified them. Particularly as they seem to have no problem producing content for other platforms.”
Less popular than expected?
By the end of 2021, new podcast episodes still hadn’t appeared – leading to one media lawyer to suggest Harry and Meghan may not receive the full £18million for the deal. Speaking last month, media lawyer Ian Penman, who specialises in music streaming contracts, speculated that the venture is likely to have been less popular than Spotify and the royal couple expected.
He said: “It would not be an unfair assumption that perhaps their popularity was not as great as maybe they or indeed Spotify initially felt. “I think you could draw a conclusion that if [Spotify] haven’t exercised the option on the next episode of the podcast, then maybe they did not have the popularity that either Meghan and Harry expected or indeed Spotify anticipated.” Penman explained Spotify is unlikely to have lost out because they are unlikely to have paid the full £18m upfront and are instead likely to have paid the Sussexes a small advance, retaining the right to back out of the contract if the first episode was not popular.
Spotify take charge
Now it seems that Harry and Meghan’s podcast venture is being taken into the streaming giant’s “own hands”. Spotify are hiring a number of in-house producers to help deliver on the deal after waiting more than a year for any material. They are recruiting new staff to work with Harry and Meghan’s Archewell Audio in Los Angeles for podcasts that feature “the voices of high profile women.” One advert for a senior producer role at Gimlet Projects, Spotify’s in-house production arm, states: “We’re currently assembling a show team that will build and launch a new original show with Archewell featuring the voices of high profile women.
“The ideal candidate has experience working with high-profile talent, and an interest in the intersection of social activism and popular culture.” The couple’s lack of material comes despite the Sussexes employing podcast producer Rebecca Sanaes as their ‘head of audio’ at Archewell last year. A source told The Sun: “Spotify has been waiting a long time for some content from Harry and Meghan and now it appears they have finally taken matters into their own hands. “Hiring a raft of in-house talent on Spotify’s side will ensure they finally squeeze something out of them as they bid to honour their contract.”