Spotify is undergoing quite the time of change at the moment, including exits of some of the company’s biggest names in the podcast space. The latest notable one there is a sudden “mutual” split with Archewell Audio, the company founded by Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. And Bill Simmons, founder and head of The Ringer and Spotify’s head of global sports content since last year, is apparently quite happy to now double down on his past criticisms of that couple, in unexpectedly strong terms. On the latest episode of his The Bill Simmons Podcast, he called them “f***ing grifters” and hinted that there’s a story to be told about a Zoom he had with Harry on podcast ideas:
Bill Simmons absolutely HATES Prince Harry
We need to know what Harry said to Bill on that Zoom pic.twitter.com/lsxNoSPaCU
— The r/BillSimmons Podcast (@rBillSimmonsPod) June 16, 2023
“The f-cking grifters. That’s the podcast we shoulda launched with them. I gotta get drunk one night and tell the story of the Zoom I had with Harry to try and help him with a podcast idea. It’s one of my best stories.”
As Douglas notes, Simmons wasn’t shy about criticizing Harry and Meghan even while they still had a Spotify deal, including delivering this rant on Harry in January:
Bill Simmons losing his shit over prince harry gotta be one of the most random things I’ll hear all week pic.twitter.com/aS9kB9fD9y
— Elyes إلياس (@_sillyilly) January 9, 2023
“Shoot this guy to the sun. I’m so tired of this guy. What does he bring to the table? He just whines about shit and keeps giving interviews. Who gives a shit? Who cares about your life? You weren’t even the favorite son.”
“I can’t stand him. So tired. I’m so embarrassed I f-cking have to share Spotify with him, the guy sucks.”
Indeed, Harry not being the favorite son is sort of the point, at least as per his book Spare and the Oprah Winfrey interview and Netflix specials he and Meghan have done. But it is notable that Simmons was so critical of Harry even while they were under the same company, and that he’s now amped up those criticisms even more to calling Harry and Meghan “f***ing grifters.”
As for what Harry and Meghan did or did not do at Spotify before this parting, that’s worth some discussion. The initial deal there, struck in 2020, was described as “a multiyear partnership with Spotify…to create podcasts and shows that would tell stories through diverse voices and perspectives.” The only actual podcast it had created by this point was Archetypes, hosted by Meghan.
That podcast debuted last August and put out 12 episodes from then to November, including interviews with everyone from Serena Williams to Judd Apatow. As per the Associated Press, it topped charts in seven countries (including the U.S. and the UK), and it won a People’s Choice Award for Best Podcast, so there certainly was some success there. But it’s also possible to see Simmons’ point on the overall lack of content from this partnership (and the particular lack of any content with Harry in a front-facing role), and his perspective is understandable considering how much content he personally generates in addition to his executive roles with The Ringer and Spotify.
With that said, though, there’s perhaps some context here to consider from the Meghan and Harry side as well. First off, several big figures have exited Spotify recently, including the founders of content networks Parcast, Gimlet Media, and Anchor. The company’s undergoing cost-cutting and changes in strategy, like many in the tech and media space, and some of their particular strategy change appears to be placing less value on the biggest names. (This may also lead to the exit of Jemele Hill, but whether she’ll actually leave is unclear at this point.) So it’s not like they’re the only prominent figures Spotify is no longer working with.
Beyond that, the discussion about how much content Harry and Meghan actually made and how much they were supposed to make is difficult from the outside. Yes, by typical sports podcast standards, 12 episodes of one podcast as total content output for a company over three-plus years would seem incredibly low. But, as mentioned, that podcast did very well for Spotify, so whatever amount of planning went into it seemed to pay off on some level. Whether it paid off relative to spend and expectations is a different question, and one tougher to answer from the outside.
It seems reasonable to guess that Spotify hoped for more than just 12 episodes of one podcast when they first struck this deal with Meghan and Harry. And there may well have been some particular challenges in getting more from them, as Simmons is seeming to indicate here. But it’s worth noting that development deals (which we’ve seen a lot of recently for big-name creators in many spaces, from film to TV to audio) don’t always lead to a ton of actually-released content; they’re by nature speculative, and that sometimes pans out and sometimes does not.
And it is interesting to note how podcast paths in particular seem to be diverging. Many of the new podcasts being launched at the moment come with big-name creators (in the sports space, especially athletes) or outlets behind them. And sometimes those deals are struck under a development framework of “We want to work with person X!”, leading to under-contract time spent discussing what the content there will actually look like, rather than with fully-formed content already done or envisioned. Meanwhile, the path for less-prominent names seems to be more building up a podcast on their own or at a small company, proving the merits of it and the audience for it, and then getting it acquired and/or backed.
So while the Harry and Meghan deal here looks widely different in terms of actual content creation than, say, what Simmons has produced at Spotify or what others in the sports space are doing, it’s not necessarily that far out of line with other top creator deals. And some of those have run longer and haven’t actually led to any fully-done content yet, including Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Amazon deal. (But even that’s hard to tag as a complete failure before it’s actually concluded.) It is certainly significant to see Simmons (who, again, is a Spotify executive at this point, not just a podcaster for them) ripping Harry and Meghan as “f***ing grifters,” though, and it fits into his long-running willingness to offer harsh criticisms of even notable figures.
[The Big Lead; top photo of Simmons from the 2017 Recode Summit]