Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s Spotify, Netflix lost millions of dollars

Say what you will about the supposed dwindling power of the monarchy, at least according to the anti-shortbread brigade, but I present to you, Princess Eugenie.

As the UK gets back to work after the entire nation’s annual beach-and-double-Bacardi-break in Benidorm, Eugenie has announced that not only will there be a second series of her podcast Floodlight (part of her work with the Anti-Slavery Collective which she co-founded) but she has snagged former British Prime Minister Theresa May as a guest.

That means that today, at least one member of the royal family can boast some success on the audio series front, while over in Montecito, one has to wonder if ‘podcast’ might just have become a dirty word.

Daniel Ek, the founder and CEO of Spotify, has now revealed to the BBC why his company had parted ways with Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in June.

In short – the lone series that was the product of their $34 million deal, Meghan’s Archetypes, had failed to make ‘consumers very happy’.

Asked specifically about the duke and duchess’ megabucks contract, Ek’s response seemed so carefully worded there cannot be a doubt that it was the result of the entire PR team huddling around a hygge conference table pulling an all-nighter.

He said: “We thought new innovation was needed to happen here. We thought we can come in and offer a great experience that both makes consumers very happy and allows new creators new avenues. And the truth of the matter is some of it has worked, some of it hasn’t.”

It’s amazing to think that only this time last year, Meghan was riding comparatively high. Sure, Archetypes was a slog of overly-long episodes that couldn’t quite be saved by a slew of A-list guests, but at least its launch had seen it top the charts in a number of countries, including the US and Australia.

And then came … the slide. After a month-long break due to the late Queen’s death, the series resumed, with each week’s episode failing to light up Spotify’s episode charts. By the end of its 12-week run, in the first days of December, only three episodes were in Spotify’s top one hundred episode rankings in the US, in the 21st, 73rd and 90th spots. (That is according to the Internet Archive.)

These were hardly the sort of numbers that seemed worth the untold millions, you would have to assume, the duke and duchess had banked by then. Nor was Archetypes in any way agenda-setting or a must-listen or had done anything much at all to move the wider cultural dial.

However, at least Meghan had made something.

For years, the mystery of what sort of podcast Harry might record to earn his part of the eight-figure contract only grew.

We now know, thanks to Bloomberg, that the ideas that the duke had been pitching to Spotify were about as well-thought out and reasonable as Queen Camilla offering to do a guest spot on Love Island.

According to the business title, Harry had thought he could interview figures such as that tangerine idiot who spent years leaving Diet Coke rings on the Resolute Desk and tyrannical, facelifted Russian President about their “their early formative years” and how that had lead to the adults they had become. (I’m not sure a dearth of hugs can be blamed for the annexation of Crimea or the invasion of Ukraine or committed alleged election interference.)

There was also Harry’s idea to do a series that would have “tackled major societal conversations” such as climate change and religion. For the latter, the duke had thought he might like to interview the Pope.

Precisely no one was surprised when, in June, Spotify announced they were done with the Sussexes. While the official statement said the two parties had “mutually agreed to part ways”, this split was a blow to the Sussexes’ nascent content empire.

More than three months on, it now looks like Harry and Meghan’s podcasting careers have joined the duchess’ 40×40 initiative, her push for paid parental leave and supposed plans to push for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, which is to say, they all seem to have been quietly forgotten.

In September, it was reported that Meghan had given up on trying to trademark the word ‘archetypes’ after an ultimately futile 17-month quest, hardly boding well for the future of the series.

The thing to consider here is, have the couple’s podcast dreams officially been mothballed?

And, if the Sussexes can’t ‘make consumers happy’ with their audio talents, can they ‘make consumers happy’ in any of their other endeavours?

Their track record is decidedly patchy.

Of their Netflix series, they have had one mega-win (Harry & Meghan) to two flops, audience-wise, (Live to Lead and Heart of Invictus).

Harry’s Spare sold like the clappers but would another book from the duke, not about his family, sell even partially as well? (‘Harry’s Big Guide to Beard Maintenance’ is not going to set any bestseller lists on fire.)

Having now seemingly plumbed the depths of their royal trauma, what do Harry and Meghan have to offer audiences?

Or to phrase it in an Ek-ish fashion – can the duke and duchess find a way to make audiences ‘happy’?

Even back in January this year, when the Sussexes were still on Spotify’s books, Bill Simmons, the company’s Head of Podcast Innovation and Monetisation, had said of Harry, “What does he do? … Why are we listening to you? So you were born in a royal family and then you left … You sell documentaries and podcasts, and nobody cares what you have to say about anything unless you talk about the royal family, and you just complain about them.”

The Sussexes’ entire US future hinges on them coming up with a reason as to ‘why people should listen to them’.

Forget their titles and taken as individuals, their talents perhaps could be better phrased as ‘talents’.

Until the age of 35, Harry had only ever worked for his grandmother and had never had to pay for a roof over his head. Meghan had been, as former Vanity Fair impresario and royal biographer Tina Brown put it, only number six on the callsheet of a show on cable.

Meghan might make millions for their family with her new online entrepreneurial mystery project, and good for her, but as producers and content makers, the jury is still very much out on whether they can cut the mustard.

Now that the Hollywood strikes are over and scripted productions can back on track, will we see the Sussexes make headway with Meet Me At The Lake, the best-selling novel that Netflix reportedly bought the rights to, specifically for them? Will Harry’s supposed Africa doco ever get off the ground? Will they find a way to make us, the unwashed audience masses “happy”?

Just think – there are probably brave souls inside WME and Archewell tasked with working out answers to these very questions, this very minute. At least none of them will have to worry, I’m guessing, working out how Harry can slip into Il Papa’s DMs to set up an interview or the time difference with Vatican City. Small mercies, you know.

Daniela Elser is a writer, editor and a royal commentator with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.

Read related topics:Meghan MarklePrince Harry

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