When the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced their $20m, multi-year deal with Spotify in 2020, it was hailed as the centrepiece of the couple’s growing business empire.

So when news broke that the deal had come to an end after just one series, questions arose over why the partnership had broken down so quickly and what it meant for the Harry and Meghan brand.

The streaming company and the Sussexes’ audio production company, Archewell Audio, released a joint statement on Thursday night saying they had “mutually agreed to part ways and are proud of the series we made together”.

But insiders close to Spotify said the royal couple did not meet the productivity benchmark required to receive the full headline payout from the deal, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Spotify is facing investor pressure to improve its performance after making a net loss of €430m (£367m) last year and the Stockholm-based company’s chief executive admitted in January he had been “too ambitious” in his spending plans.

In February an activist investor – a financial firm that seeks change at underperforming companies – pointed to investments in podcasts and audiobooks at Spotify as it warned costs had “exploded” at the company.

Against this backdrop, Spotify announced 200 job cuts at its podcasting business this month and is moving its focus away from headline-grabbing exclusive content deals.

The duchess’s Archetypes podcast, which featured conversations with friends and celebrities including Serena Williams, Mariah Carey and Trevor Noah, topped the podcast charts for Spotify in a number of markets but received mixed reviews from critics.

Variety cited an unnamed source who said Spotify had been expecting more content from the couple, while another unnamed source said Harry and Meghan wanted to move away from exclusive Spotify distribution to find a new home for their audio projects.

Last year, Barack and Michelle Obama also ended their deal with Spotify to exclusively distribute their podcast, Higher Ground. In that case, Spotify said it had declined to renew the deal, while it was reported the Obamas had disagreed with Spotify over the number of shows that would feature the couple.

Mark Mulligan, an analyst at MIDiA Research, predicted both sides would have got what they wanted out of the deal, with the Sussexes seeking an audience on a new platform with cultural heft and Spotify establishing itself as a force in podcasting.

Mulligan said for Spotify, now the world’s most used podcast service, the Harry and Meghan deal was about “how can we establish a foothold in this market rather than generate a profit from it”.

Since stepping back from royal life, Harry and Meghan have focused on making money through media ventures, such as the podcast, Harry’s tell-all autobiography Spare and an agreement with Netflix to producing streaming content, including a docuseries about their relationship with Britain’s royal family.

Experts once predicted these ventures, which have been successful and lucrative, could help the couple build a $1bn business empire in the US.

Spare (for which Harry received an estimated £16m advance) sold more copies in its first week (750,000) than any other memoir in the UK. The book sold a total of 1.4m English language copies in all formats in the US, the UK and Canada on release day alone – making it the fastest-selling nonfiction book of all time.

The Netflix series was a huge hit for the streamer, with nearly 2.5 million people watching the first episode on the day of its launch in the UK. The couple also fronted and executive produced the series Live to Lead in conjunction with the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

But Mark Borkowski, a crisis PR consultant and author, said the end of the Spotify deal was not just bad for the couple’s brand, it also started “picking away the seams” of a lot of their other projects.

“You can see this being a bit of a domino that leads to other problems,” Borkowski said. “Will they be able to keep their engine running? The next deal isn’t going to be as much as the Spotify or Netflix deal and they’re gradually heading towards becoming busted flush. They’ve been isolated by the royal family, they’ve run out of steam.”

Borkowski believed statements about an amicable parting of ways were merely PR exercises. “If the Sussexes’ content was good enough, Spotify would not be dropping them. Let’s not be too romantic about it, it all comes back to the numbers and the costs of those numbers,” he said.

“There were all these hyped-up comparisons about the Sussexes being the new Obamas, but creating compelling content that is going to engage is incredibly difficult. In a world where there’s a million podcasts, you need to stand out.”

He said it was possible that the Sussexes were focusing on ways to expand Meghan’s wellness and lifestyle blog The Tig, given the success of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop and Kourtney Kardashian’s Poosh.


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