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Leaked emails show recent discussions about possible Sony/ATV sale

By | Published on Wednesday 24 December 2014

Sony ATV

Sony Corp has been secretly considering a sale of its music publishing business Sony/ATV according to Bloomberg, which cites emails leaked as part of the hack attack on Sony Pictures in the US. Emails to and from Michael Lynton, who heads up Sony’s US-based entertainment business in general as well as the group’s film studios, apparently refer to such discussions.

Concerns about the future growth potential of the music publishing sector as it tackles the challenges of digital are expressed from some at Sony Corp HQ in Japan, while complexities in the ownership and governance of the Sony/ATV business are also cited as reasons to cut it loose.

Unlike the Sony Music record company, which is owned by Sony Corp outright, Sony/ATV is a joint venture with the Michael Jackson Estate. Meanwhile half of the business is actually EMI Music Publishing, which Sony/ATV and the MJ Estate co-owns with a number of other shareholders.

From the leaked emails, discussions about the future of Sony/ATV do seem to be in a very early stage, with one exec expressing concern when the topic is included on the agenda for a wider top team meeting, saying all talk about a sale of the group’s music publishing assets are “top secret”. Though not now, of course.

It being the world’s biggest music publisher, there’d almost certainly be quite a bit of interest in Sony/ATV if it was put on the block. And if it became a totally independent entity, that could have some interesting affects on the wider music rights sector.

Sony/ATV chief Marty Bandier is already hitting out at how much money the publishers make from streaming services, and while that is partly about getting the digital service providers to pay more to the music rights community overall, it’s also about altering the way existing streaming revenues are split between the publishers and the labels (the vast majority currently goes to the latter).

While Sony/ATV is in common ownership with the world’s second biggest record company, pressure might be put on Bandier to hold back from all out war with the DSPs and labels, certainly this side of Spotify’s flotation, from which Sony Music will earn big time as a result of its minority stake in the streaming firm. But an independent Sony/ATV might be more willing to green light a nuclear attack on a streaming sector many songwriters and publishers reckon has been structured to benefit DSPs and labels at their expense.