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Waterman and Gambaccini criticise Universal’s EMI bid

By | Published on Friday 25 May 2012


I’m not sure celebrity voxpops really have much sway when competition regulators at the European Commission consider mergers and acquisitions, but if they did then by my tally things would be moving against Universal’s bid to buy EMI.

Pete Waterman and Paul Gambaccini are the latest music industry old-timers to speak out about the proposal to merge the EMI record companies with the Universal Music empire, ultimately putting the iconic British music major in the hands of French conglom Vivendi. Pop maker Waterman and music pundit Gambaccini join legendary record producer George Martin in lamenting the proposed deal.

Speaking to the Daily Mail, Waterman said: “Losing another British company is a tragedy, but even looking at this from a dispassionate point of view something has gone wrong. Universal has near total dominance of the music industry and we’ve reached a situation that is totally uncompetitive”.

Meanwhile Gambo, taking a break from mourning the dead on BBC television, has said he “reacted in horror” when it was first announced last year that the EMI labels could become part of Universal Music. Though, according to the Mail, he seems to accept the good intent of the current management at Universal, but worries what might happen to EMI if and when there’s a change of leadership or ownership at the world biggest music company.

For its part, Universal said it would happily explain to Waterman why its proposals are good news for EMI if he’d only call them. A spokesman told the tabloid: “If he [called] we would explain why his concerns are misplaced given the strong competitive environment in today’s music market. It [EI] will fare much better with us than with non-music owners, who would only asset-strip the business”.

As much previously reported, Universal’s bid to buy the EMI labels is currently being reviewed by various competition regulators around the world, but most notably the European Commission and America’s Federal Trade Commission. Meanwhile, the Sony-led bid to buy the EMI Music Publishing business has been green lighted in Europe, but still awaits approval Stateside.

Back at EMI, where staffers await the big split if and when the two takeover deals are approved later this year, there is some apprehension about the future, but some optimism too, and a real sense of the importance of getting on with things in the meantime. Or at least that’s what Amsterdam-based Bart Cools says. An Exec VP For Marketing on the labels side of the EMI business, he’s been speaking to Australian based The Music.

He told the magazine: “It would be stupid to say that we never think of it [what will happen after the acquisition]. But after the initial shock that this was going to happen, there was the realisation that we’ve been in this position for years now – Terra Firma, Citibank, Warners, not Warners, maybe Warners, now it’s Universal. And I think there’s also a realisation from everybody in this company that there’s no point in thinking about it 24 hours a day, because there’s really nothing we can do about it at the moment but try and do our job as good as possible and be the best possible company we can be by the time that it actually happens, and make our point, if you like”.

And while some, mainly outside EMI, have predicted significant workforce and roster culls post any acquisition (which is possibly overly pessimistic, though not without precedent in terms of past major label mergers), Cools notes: “I think [EMI] is a healthy company, in most territories making quite a bit of money. Universal didn’t buy this to destroy it, obviously. There is a sort of worry, but not too much”.

Of course there may be more worries on the publishing side of EMI because, while Universal has revealed very little about its plans for the labels post-merger, there was that leaked report from Sony last month indicating that up to half of EMI Music Publishing’s workforce could be ultimately axed once big chunks of the firm’s rights administration is handed over to Sony/ATV. Sony’s publishing chief Marty Bandier did try to allay fears at EMI Publishing, though not without implying that there would indeed be quite a bit of downsizing if the Sony-led bid to buy the company goes through.

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