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John Allen, the former Navy SEAL and rising podcast star known as MrBallen, has struck a wide-reaching content deal with Amazon that will see his hit podcast become available exclusively on Amazon Music beginning on November 1.
With Allen, Amazon will have another true-crime star in its growing stable of podcasts, which includes Jason Bateman, Will Arnett and Sean Hayes’ pandemic breakout SmartLess; Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark’s true-crime behemoth My Favorite Murder; and Guy Raz’s business savvy How I Built This. But unlike those shows, which have a one-week early distribution window on Amazon Music and Wondery+ before going wide on all platforms, Allen’s MrBallen Podcast: Strange, Dark and Mysterious Stories will be available to stream only on Amazon Music — and not even on Amazon’s podcast subsidiary Wondery.
In competing with Spotify, which set the standard for exclusive podcasts through its multimillion-dollar deals with Joe Rogan and Alex Cooper, Amazon appeared to be forging down a different path by offering talent the best of both worlds: the multimillion-dollar riches of an exclusive deal, without the major commitment. In turn, Amazon — which certainly has the money to spend — would get a slice of these shows’ lucrative ad businesses and build its reputation as a go-to place for top creators turned off by the prospects of a walled garden, which could potentially result in a decline in listenership and reach.
Now, the tech giant is placing its exclusivity bets on Allen and the Ballen brand, hoping that the rising star can burnish its audio streaming platform as it competes with Spotify and Apple for listeners and talent.
The three-year deal with Allen, brokered by UTA, is also expansive for a homegrown podcast creator in that it doesn’t end with audio. Amazon will also have the first-look rights to new ventures from Allen’s media company, Ballen Studios, which counts former Night Media manager Nick Witters as its CEO and former Cadence13 executive vp Steve Cohen as its head of sales. In a statement shared on Tuesday, Allen said Ballen Studios has ambitions to expand into TV, film, books and games. Amazon — with its Amazon Studios, Prime Video and Prime shopping arms — would naturally be poised to support those expansions.
“The Strange, Dark and Mysterious community is the only reason I have the platform that I do today. I will always be dedicated to bringing them the best, and continually raising the bar with the art of storytelling. Working with Amazon Music allows us to do just that,” Allen said. “We’re just getting started.”
The MrBallen Podcast has become a runaway hit since launching as a podcast in February, topping charts on both Apple Podcasts and Spotify in the true-crime category. The show originated on YouTube in March 2020, when Allen — usually seen wearing a backwards baseball cap and flannel shirt — began recounting “DISTURBING” and “TERRIFYING” (all-caps included) stories on the video platform and quickly built a dedicated fan following.
By February of this year, Allen launched the podcast version of his show — sans video — and found quick success; as of June, Strange, Dark and Mysterious was generating nearly 7 million monthly downloads as a podcast while Allen’s YouTube videos brought in more than 40 million monthly views, according to The Verge. (A representative for Amazon Music declined to share updated figures but said the podcast’s monthly numbers have “grown exponentially month over month” since the February launch.) Though new and existing episodes of Strange, Dark and Mysterious will now be housed exclusively on Amazon Music, Allen will still be able to upload content to his YouTube channels: MrBallen, with 6.7 million subscribers, and MrBallen Shorts, a separate channel dedicated to shorter-form content with 2.1 million subscribers.
“John Allen has built an authentic and compelling storytelling brand that clearly resonates with MrBallen’s millions of passionate fans,” Wondery CEO Jen Sargent, who also oversees Amazon Music’s podcast strategy, said. “We’re thrilled to be working with John, Nick Witters, CEO of Ballen Studios, and their team in continuing to expand the reach of their existing show and are looking forward to working with them to develop new formats, content and stories for Amazon Music’s global audiences around the world.”
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