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Warner CEO confirms his company will oppose EMI sale

By | Published on Friday 10 February 2012

Warner Music

Warner Music’s CEO Stephen Cooper has confirmed that his company will oppose Universal’s bid to buy EMI in an earnings call with analysts.

The newish Warner chief, put in place last year by newish owner Access Industries, confirmed statements made by his predecessor Edgar Bronfman Jr, who said, on his last day as Warner Music’s Chairman last month, that the major would fight both Universal’s latest expansion bid and Sony/ATV’s plans to buy EMI Publishing “tooth and nail”.

Warner, of course, also wanted to buy the EMI record labels but was outbid by its bigger rival. Both the Universal and Sony/ATV deals are subject to regulator approval in the US and Europe, and Warner will lobby with the independent sector against approval being given.

Although Warner is now in private ownership, Cooper is still briefing City types on the music firm’s financial performance for complicated bond-type reasons. He revealed that the major’s revenues for the final quarter of 2011 were pretty much on par with the same period in 2010, which is considered good going in the context of the modern record industry. Core operating costs were down, though an increase in interet costs since the Access acquisition and the £3 million Warner spent unsuccessfully bidding for EMI meant overall losses were up.

Digital revenues being up 17% helped Warner slightly increase its revenues year on year but, Cooper said, he feared for the future of the emerging digital music sector if Universal gets the EMI labels and Sony/ATV the EMI music publishing catalogues, making the two biggest music companies in the world even bigger. According to CBS News, Cooper said that would “significantly impair” Warner’s ability to compete, and would harm “consumers, industry employees, recording artists, songwriters … and our emerging digital services”.

It’s expected that Universal and Sony/ATV’s EMI bids will get the hardest time from European regulators, and the bidders’ filings on that side are expected to be submitted imminently. It will be interesting to see what form Warner’s opposition takes as the regulators go through the motions.

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