Subscription podcast network Luminary has tapped former JioSaavn CEO Rishi Malhotra to lead the New York-based company, while comedian Dave Chappelle’s Pilot Boy Productions has made an undisclosed investment in the platform.
Malhotra joins Luminary, which launched in April 2019, after leaving his leadership role at JioSaavn, the Indian audio-streaming service that he co-founded and served as CEO of from 2014 until the end of 2021. Under Malhotra, Saavn was among the first Indian audio-streamers to launch a podcast division and in-house label, Artist Originals, that released tracks featuring Nas and U2.
In an interview, Luminary executive chairman and co-founder Matt Sacks tells Billboard that Malhotra “hit every box” with his past experience. “He has built a company from nothing to hundreds of people and hundreds of millions of users and significant enterprise value,” says Sacks. “He’s done it in streaming audio, building a label, working directly with some of the biggest artists in the world. And that’s exactly what we’re trying to do here.”
Chappelle’s continued backing is important for Luminary, which touted $100 million in venture investment when it launched, aiming to be a Netflix for podcasts with its ad-free subscription model. But the platform has struggled to offer popular podcasts like The New York Times’ The Daily and shows from Gimlet Media like Reply All and Homecoming.
Among the most popular of the 30 original shows produced by Luminary is The Midnight Miracle, created and hosted by Chappelle and rappers Yasiin Bey and Talib Kweli. “I chose Luminary because they value artists and share my vision for re-imagining audio content,” says Chappelle in a press release. “The Midnight Miracle and our unique format is changing the podcast experience.” Malhotra describes the show, which debuted in May 2021, “as an audio Saturday Night Live.”
Chappelle’s Pilot Boy Productions’ investment, the amount of which was not disclosed, comes with a seat on Luminary’s board, which will be filled by Ben Jealous, the social entrepreneur and former NAACP CEO and president.
Sacks says the deal is a natural extension of Pilot Boy’s involvement with Luminary for which it executive produces People’s Party With Talib Kweli, as well as a number of other shows in development. “For us as a business, having Dave and Pilot Boy as content creators, executive producers, shareholders and board members, has done a ton,” he says. The Midnight Miracle has helped the network in both “growing our subscriber base and in conversations while bringing new artists onto the platform.”
While Luminary hasn’t yet shared official subscriber figures, Malhotra says that they number around a couple of 100,000 people. Around 75% of the audience is based in the U.S. The United Kingdom and Canada are its biggest international markets.
Part of the network’s strategy moving forward will be “going beyond subscriptions to deliver products that connect fans more uniquely to creators,” Malhotra says, potentially including merchandise, live events and NFTs.
“When I started looking at the product, there were natural pathways to artists being able to extend themselves,” he says. “There are things like artwork and audio transcripts that can be delivered as limited-run NFTs.” He added that Luminary will co-distribute the upcoming album by Black Star, the duo formed by Kweli and Bey.
Prior to joining the platform, Malhotra helped grow SVOD service HBO On Demand’s business between 2003 and 2008. Erstwhile Luminary chief executive Simon Sutton, who also previously worked with HBO, will remain on the board of directors. Notably, former HBO chairman Richard Plepler is among Luminary’s investors.