News & Opinion | January 17, 2020 6:25 am

How Barack and Michelle Obama Built a Multimedia Empire in Two Years

From book deals to Netflix and Spotify, the Obamas have gone multiplatform

The Obamas are taking over media.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Suffice to say, the Obamas are doing pretty well these days. The former president and first lady didn’t waste any time establishing their post-White House legacy, and just a few years after leaving office, Barack and Michelle Obama have found themselves standing on growing multimedia empire.

There was the unprecedented $65 million book deal with Penguin Random House, coupled with the massive arena tour to promote Michelle’s record-breaking memoir Becoming. There’s also the multi-year content deal with Netflix, a podcast agreement with Spotify, and the couple’s own production company, Higher Ground Productions.

While the Obamas’ success may not be surprising given the couples’ longtime popularity, it is hugely impressive. As Joe Pompeo noted for Vanity Fair, part of the success is due, in part, to luck. The Obamas left the office and entered the media space just as the streaming wars were driving up prices for content across platforms, and execs from major media players like Apple, Amazon and HBO reportedly all wanted a piece of the former first couple.

“They have great taste, access to the best talent, and global distribution,” former HBO exec Richard Plepler told Pompeo. “If you have all of those three, it’s not hard to see them succeeding at this. I would bet on them.”

Of course, there are more cynical views to be taken of the Obamas’ rapid rise through the media ranks, most of them focusing on the large paychecks that have accompanied it. As one Hollywood source who reportedly took a meeting with Higher Ground told Pompeo, “It’s got the Democratic halo, but there’s this bourgeois element.”

In general, however, supporters argue that the Obamas are looking to expand their platform to advance the same values of goodness and idealism that have long been at the core of the couple’s brand.

“These resources give them an opportunity to have even more of an impact,” said Obama’s former senior advisor Valerie Jarrett. “If they’re a force for good and are able to do well and make money at the same time, I think that’s what we should hope for from all business leaders.”

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