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Sony/ATV could take complete control of EMI publishing in 2018

By | Published on Thursday 13 July 2017


Having bought the Michael Jackson estate out of its music publishing joint venture Sony/ATV last year, the Sony entertainment group’s next task could be taking complete ownership of EMI Music Publishing, say various sources who have spoken to Variety.

Sony led the acquisition of the EMI publishing company back in 2012, after the bankers at Citigroup repossessed the EMI Group and split it into two – recordings and publishing – to sell on to the other major music corporations. Sony/ATV has since administrated the EMI Music Publishing catalogue so that – day-to-day – Sony/ATV/EMI operates as if it is one company, though technically they remain two entities.

There are other shareholders in EMI Music Publishing, including the Jackson estate, plus finance firms Mubadala Development, Jynwel Capital and Blackstone Group, and music industry veteran David Geffen.

Variety notes that the administration deal between Sony/ATV and EMI expires in 2018, and that would be a logical point for Sony to try to buy out the other investors, meaning Sony Corp would finally own its vast global music publishing business outright. And an anonymous source within one of those other investor firms told the entertainment industry trade mag “we’d welcome a big cheque”.

There has been speculation in recent years that Sony might look to more closely align its recorded music and music publishing businesses, bringing its music operation more in line with Warner and Universal where – although recordings and publishing operate as distinct units – there is some integration at a senior management level.

It’s thought that complexities over the ownership of the publishing side of Sony’s music business – both the previous joint venture with the Jackson estate and the ongoing consortium owning the EMI catalogues – are one of the reasons why that kind of integration hasn’t occurred in the past.

Though there are other reasons too. Not least, at Universal and Warner the top execs on the publishing side report into a CEO who is more focused on the recordings business. Sony/ATV boss Marty Bandier is unlikely to want report into recently appointed Sony Music CEO Rob Stringer, 21 years his junior.

Structuring a combined Sony recordings and publishing business the other way round – Stringer reporting into Bandier – could also cause unnecessary internal politics. A more likely solution would be inserting an extra layer of management above them both.

However, some reckon that any major integration of the two global Sony music businesses is unlikely to happen until 75 year old Bandier retires – and it doesn’t look like he is going anywhere anytime soon.

However, Sony/ATV taking complete control of EMI Music Publishing, enabling a true merger of the two firms, would certainly simplify things if and when any such integration occurs. Assuming competition regulators, most likely in Europe, don’t throw any spanners in the works if and when Sony/ATV does try to buy its business partners out of EMI.

The Sony-led acquisition of EMI Music Publishing did seem to get an easier ride with the EU competition authorities back in 2012 – compared with Universal and its purchase of the EMI record company – because there was a consortium of bidders.

Given the indie sector complained when Sony bought the Jackson estate out of Sony/ATV last year, you can expect similar objections to be raised if and when Sony buys everyone else out of EMI. Though, in reality, even a stern investigation of any such deal by the EU would likely only result in the off-loading of some of Sony’s songs catalogues.

And – as discussed at the Music 4.5 event on the value of music rights last week – there would be plenty of bidders for those catalogues in any forced sell off, so Sony would cash in nicely even if Bandier’s empire had to be trimmed down a little.