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Agents are navigating an increasingly crowded market of A-listers and big tech platforms as more clients debate whether to ink an exclusive deal with Spotify or Amazon/Wondery, or brave the open advertising market.
By J. Clara Chan
As Hollywood fully buys into podcasting, multimillion-dollar deals are the norm for the crème de la crème of shows, while a growing audio advertising marketplace has allowed more podcasters to make a good living off their work as the industry is expected to exceed $2 billion in ad revenue next year. The major talent agencies have jumped on the train and are building out their audio divisions, with agents increasingly working on podcast deals with clients.
“The deals are getting more complicated. The businesses are getting more complicated. There are more players,” Oren Rosenbaum, head of audio at UTA, tells The Hollywood Reporter. Rosenbaum, who brokered major deals like Alex Cooper’s exclusive three-year deal for Call Her Daddy with Spotify for a reported $60 million, says Spotify “fast-tracked” the move toward exclusivity and platform-specific content, even if it wasn’t necessarily the first to do so. With that has come an extra layer of complexity in partnering clients with studios and distributors with differing interests and needs.

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Despite push-back over Spotify’s $100 million exclusive deal with Joe Rogan, the company’s flashy audio partnerships with figures like the Obamas and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have certainly spurred other audio distributors to strike exclusive deals of their own. Amazon Music has found a niche in making ad sales deals with shows like SmartLess and My Favorite Murder, which in part give the company and its subsidiary Wondery a one-week exclusive window to episodes.
While up-front cash may be desirable for some, an ongoing debate in the industry has questioned whether exclusive deals end up helping or hurting a podcast. “There’s trade-offs, and each show is different. [WME’s Marissa Hurwitz] closed the first [major] exclusive deal on Spotify … with Joe Budden, and I did the second one, The Last Podcast on the Left. Obviously, neither of those are at Spotify anymore,” says Ben Davis, who leads WME’s digital department. Budden declined to renew his contract with Spotify after it ended in 2020 over concerns about losing listeners; though Davis says The Last Podcast on the Left had a good experience with Spotify, the show has a large touring business and its creators were interested in seeing how they could grow their audiences on all platforms. Hurwitz, a digital media agent at WME, adds that in some instances, she has been able to secure the same amount or more money for her clients through the open market because of the growth of advertising.

“Each individual client has their own metric of something that might be the most important to them within the deal. It’s not always the most fiscally lucrative deal that clients want to take,” Hurwitz says. “Instead, it’s feeling like they may have a true partner in the network with the people [or] really liking the marketing plan that someone may have put together.”
Still, that isn’t to say an exclusive relationship hasn’t worked for others. While Brené Brown, whom WME represents, has expressed her concerns over Spotify’s handling of misinformation, the podcaster behind the Spotify-exclusive shows Dare to Lead and Unlocking Us was initially attracted to the platform because of its ad business, which allowed her to avoid personally reading ads on her show, Davis notes.
As the podcast-to-film/TV pipeline grows, studios seek to get involved from the beginning of the audio launch. But with that comes extra concern for podcasters to protect their IP and ensure they’re involved in future adaptations of their work. “Podcast is the hottest IP. I have so many [TV and film] people knocking on my door asking, ‘What’s coming down the pipeline, what’s coming up next?’” says Caroline Edwards, the director of podcast initiatives at ICM. “Because that is so forefront, I make sure that my clients, whenever possible, [are] attached to those derivatives because I don’t want them to be in a position where … it’s their intellectual property and then it just gets taken away and the ‘big bucks’ get made in other derivatives, and they’re not a part of it.”
Bringing in top agency clients to work on podcasts has become an easier pitch, too. “I’m not embarrassed to say that five or six years ago, I was … begging. I was like, please, just let us get a meeting. We think so-and-so would be so amazing. And even if they’re not into it, hopefully this plants a seed and, in the future, they’ll come back to us,” Rosenbaum says. “That definitely happened many, many, many times.”

In 2020, about 22 of the top 200 podcasts were hosted by actors and other Hollywood talent, including Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, Will Arnett, Zach Braff, Rob Lowe and The Office stars Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey. Rosenbaum remembers when he first approached Seth Rogen a few years ago about creating a podcast. “[He] couldn’t have been lovelier, couldn’t have been more open, but wasn’t ready to commit to what we thought you’d have to commit to in order to make something sustainable and successful and worth, frankly, his time,” Rosenbaum says. It wasn’t until 2021 that Rogen launched Storytime With Seth Rogen to critical success, landing on year-end best podcast lists.
The definition of a successful podcast may vary depending on whom you ask, but the agents who spoke with THR were adamant that there have been recent hits in podcasting, even if there hasn’t been much transparency on listener counts. “If the idea was that nobody could go and make a living at this over the last two years, we wouldn’t see the environment that we’re in now,” says Elise Bergerson, a former business manager at Serial who joined Verve in 2021 to lead a newly formed audio division. “We’re at the beginning of this journey.”
Who’s Repped Where? Major Podcast Clients

Division head: Oren Rosenbaum
Notable clients: audiochuck/Ashley Flowers; Tenderfoot; Alex Cooper (Call Her Daddy); Guy Raz, Exactly Right Media (My Favorite Murder); iHeart; Wondery
Division head:
Josh Lindgren
Number of agents: About 12*
Notable clients: SmartLess; Futuro Media; Stuff You Should Know; Climate of Change With Cate Blanchett and Danny Kennedy; Prophecy, from Kerry Washington’s Simpson Street; Ari Shapiro; and Dr. Death reporter Laura Be

Division head: Ben Davis
Number of agents:
About 14*
Notable clients:
Morbid; Malcolm Gladwell/Pushkin Industries; Pod Save America/Crooked Media; Dax Shepard; Freakonomics; Brené Brown; Glennon Doyle; Literally With Rob Lowe

Division head:
Caroline Edwards
Notable clients: Shonda Rhimes (iHeartMedia deal); Charlamagne tha God (iHeartMedia deal); Karamo Brown (Luminary); Tori Spelling (9021OMG); Danny Pellegrino (Everything Iconic); Alan Cumming (Alan Cumming’s Shelves, Hot White Heist); John Stamos (The Grand Scheme: Snatching Sinatra); Richie Reseda (Abolition X)
Division head:
Elise Bergerson
Notable clients: Emmanuel Dzotsi (host of Reply All); Stephanie Foo (formerly This American Life); Hillary Frank (creator of Here Lies Me)
*figures include agents across the agency who work on podcast deals
A version of this story appeared in the Feb. 11 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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