The partnership between Spotify and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, has come to an abrupt end, leaving behind a trail of controversy. The decision to terminate the exclusive podcast deal was finalized after The Wall Street Journal reported that Spotify would not be renewing Meghan Markle’s show, Archetypes, for a second season.

The duchess is now reportedly developing more content for the Archetypes audience on another platform. The Journal’s story is believed to have played a significant role in expediting the conclusion of the Spotify-Archewell relationship. Prior to the article’s publication, the deal was still intact, but the joint statement released by both parties following the report indicated a mutual agreement to part ways. However, Spotify’s Bill Simmons, a key figure responsible for podcast monetization, raised questions about the amicability of the split when he referred to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle as “grifters” during an episode of his podcast.

While Spotify is not entirely blameless in the breakdown of the relationship, industry insiders note the challenges of working with the audio company. One dealmaker stated that it is “very difficult to get anything done at Spotify” and that there is limited flexibility with major deals like these. Notably, other high-profile talent, including Barack and Michelle Obama, as well as Esther Perel, have also chosen not to renew their deals with Spotify.

Spotify’s podcasting division has recently witnessed significant leadership upheaval with the departures of Dawn Ostroff, former chief content and ad business officer, and Max Cutler, a top podcast partnership executive. The division has also experienced layoffs due to the consolidation of in-house studios Gimlet and Parcast into Spotify Studios, despite the company’s costly acquisitions. Spotify’s CEO, Daniel Ek, publicly acknowledged the company’s past over-investment in podcasting and talent deals during an earnings call, vowing to be more diligent in future content deals. He stated that underperforming shows would not be renewed, and decisions would be made based on relative value. Consequently, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who released only 12 episodes of Archetypes and one holiday special during their time with Spotify, are unlikely to receive the full payout of their reported $20 million deal.

Although Archetypes may find a new home on another platform as Archewell retains the rights to the show, the Sussexes will face negotiation challenges in a podcasting market increasingly cautious about expensive talent deals. Most podcast platforms now prioritize wider distribution and increased listenership over exclusive windowing deals, as demonstrated by Amazon’s Wondery and Spotify’s own shift away from exclusivity. Julie McNamara, Spotify’s head of global podcast studios, recently announced the signing of Trevor Noah, but with a twist. Unlike previous deals, Noah’s podcast will be available across all major platforms, highlighting Spotify’s shift towards monetizing its podcasts now that it has a substantial listener base.

The termination of the Spotify podcast deal with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle raises questions about the challenges faced by the audio company and the evolving dynamics of the podcasting industry. While controversies and internal reorganization played a role in the relationship’s end, the decision reflects Spotify’s shift away from exclusive deals and toward maximizing the monetization of its podcasting platform.