As soon as Spotify struck a deal with Joe Rogan in 2020 to become the exclusive distributor of his podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, it was evident that the company was paying him a pretty penny. Initial reports pegged the value of the deal at around $100 million. However, in the wake of a firestorm over claims that Rogan was enabling the spread of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation, a new report suggests Spotify is paying much more than that.
According to The New York Times, the three-and-a-half year deal is worth at least $200 million, with a possibility of additional payments. As the report notes, that's more than Spotify paid to buy major podcast production companies Gimlet Media and The Ringer — each of those deals was worth a little under $200 million.
Rogan's show is Spotify's most popular podcast in 93 countries, including the US. Episodes of The Joe Rogan Experience can garner tens of millions of listeners. Spotify CEO Daniel Ek reportedly told employees this month that big exclusive deals such as the Rogan one helped make the company as successful as it is. Spotify has remained behind Rogan, even after his use of racist language on the show came under the spotlight. Rogan removed some episodes containing that language from Spotify.
The backlash against Rogan and the company ramped up after hundreds of doctors, nurses, scientists and educators sent an open letter to Spotify in January urging the company to take more action against the spread of misinformation. They sent the request after Dr. Robert Malone made claims about COVID-19 vaccines on The Joe Rogan Experience that they called "false and societally harmful assertions."
Notable critics including Neil Young and Joni Mitchell accused Spotify of spreading harmful misinformation and pulled their music from the platform. Around the same time, Brené Brown put episodes of her Spotify-exclusive podcasts on hold. Film director Ava DuVernay struck a podcast deal with Spotify last year, but cut ties this month before producing any content for the company. Reports suggest Barack and Michelle Obama may not renew their Spotify deal, which is set to expire in a few months.
Spotify has also faced criticism from employees over Rogan. The host and editor of Gimlet's Science VS podcast said they'd no longer make episodes of their show until "Spotify implements stronger methods to stop the spread of misinformation on the platform." There was one exception to that stance, though. Wendy Zukerman and Blythe Terrell are publishing episodes that debunk misinformation being spread on the platform. They released one earlier this month that examines some of the claims made in Rogan's chat with Malone.