An official auction of EMI by owner Citigroup has yet to begin, but a piece in the NY Post hints that the bidding might be over before it starts. Citing unnamed sources, the story indicates that recent Warner Music Group winner Len Blavatnik has already been holding meetings with Citi about a possible EMI deal, which would see it combined with Warners, adding that they see Blavatnik’s Access Industries as the suitor with the deepest pockets. Though there are plenty of other well-funded potential bidders who would likely make a run, including KKR-backed BMG Rights Management, the Gores brothers whose bid for WMG failed, and a number of other private-equity players… Meanwhile, Edgar Bronfman Jr. took the stand in the trial to determine damages owed to record companies by Lime Wire yesterday, in an attempt to add credence to the claim of industry “devastation” caused by Mark Gorton‘s P2P service. Appearing as the ‘face’ of an industry that has suffered at the hands of Lime Wire, Gorton’s attorney’s were quick to paint Bronfman’s as one that has not suffered much by the industry downturn – pointing to layoffs under his watch, while his salaries and bonuses have totaled in the millions for the past five years. They also read from a transcript of a 2007 speech from Bronfman, which included the line, “By standing still or moving at a glacial pace, we inadvertently went to war with consumers by denying them what they wanted and could otherwise find, and as a result, of course, consumers won.” More coverage on CNET… And the general concesus of those who have been invited to the private beta of Google‘s new Music Beta, seems to be that while the features are neat, it could be so much better. What can they do to make it better? Secure agreements with the major record companies of course. The main points of contention between Google and the labels that are being reported, include disagreements over money (upfront advances to labels), piracy (labels trying to use a deal to leverage changes in the search engine’s results relating to piracy sites), and a lack of vision on Google’s part for what they wanted the service to be, combined with the fear by labels of upsetting the Apple cart, by getting in bed with a competitor. For all the talk of needing someone to step up and create a meaningful iTunes competitor, it looks as though Steve Jobs will have the upper hand with labels once again… And in related gossip, there have been rumors of a Lady Gaga tie-in with the public launch of Google Music, including a claim on Fast Company that the singer was recently shooting a commercial for Google in New York, for a promotion that would coincide with the release of her new album later this month. Such predictions might seem highly dubious, considering Universal Music is said to have been one of the main holdouts on a Google deal, however her manager is no stranger to Silicon Valley and gaming company Zynga just announced a major partnership with Gaga this week.
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Following the announcement last Friday morning that Len Blavatnik‘s Access Industries was the winning bidder in the Warner Music Group auction, late rumors bubbled that rival bidder the Gores brothers were considering an after-the-buzzer increased offer. While it would be possible, though it could create a hefty fine if the Blavatnik deal was broken, most have written it off as billionaire posturing, and expect the deal to finalize as announced. Other fallout from the Access deal seems to include the possiblity of legal action from shareholders, concerned that their best interests were not represented in the accepted bid, with Dallas-based Kendall Law Group leading the charge… Meanwhile, Google is reportedly set to reveal their long-awaited music service today at its I/O presentation in San Francisco, in a ‘beta’ version, which has the company moving ahead without licensing deals in place with the four majors. Very similar to Amazon, Google Music for now will act as a basic ‘locker’ service, allowing users to upload music to a central server (cloud), and then stream music from Android devices. The main difference from Amazon is that Google doesn’t sell music, and most don’t expect any partnership with an outside digital music service to be part of the announcement. And while just as with Amazon, Google is expected to continue its negotiations with the labels in order to release a more robust service in the future, most are already crowning Apple as the winner in the so-called ‘cloud wars’ even though the company has yet to release any specific details. Apple, who is rumored to have already completed at least one licensing deal with the four major music companies, will surely complete deals with all four before stepping out, and the technology for the service is also said to be in place. Will June see an iCloud announcement?… Elsewhere, CKX, parent company of American Idol producer 19 Entertainment, has been sold to private equity firm Apollo Global Management. CKX also has interests in Elvis Presley‘s Graceland and the image and name of Muhammad Ali. The deal is said to be valued at around $509 million… And composer Hans Zimmer has signed with William Morris Endeavor. The move is part of a string of defections from the Gorfaine-Schwartz Agency (GSA) that has also included David Newman and David Holmes. Amos Newman, formerly of GSA, is said to have been behind the moves after being recently brought into WME to start up a new division focused on moving touring clients into film, TV and videogames, as well as expanding the business of composers beyond traditional platforms.
[UPDATE: TechCrunch has a preview of the new Google Music Beta, which was unveiled this morning as expected.]
More Bits & Pieces: Initial Shots Fired in Lime Wire Damages Trial; Spotify Takes Aim at iTunes with New App
The trial to determine damages owed by Lime Wire founder Mark Gorton to the top record labels represented by the RIAA (a separate settlement with the National Music Publisher’s Association was previously reached back in March of this year), began this week in New York. The maximum statutory damages that could be awarded is more than $1billion, from a $150,000 fine for each of the 9,715 albums released through the P2P network. Notable claims made by both sides as reported on CNET and Bloomberg, included the RIAA’s claim that Lime Wire alone holds significant blame for the 52% decline in music sales during the years 2000 to 2010, as part of the overall accusation that Gorton’s service financially devastated the record labels. Meanwhile the attorneys representing Gorton called into question the notion of financial devastation for the labels, citing revenue from the likes of Internet radio, royalties from video games, and ad dollars from YouTube – even calling attention to high-level executive salaries and compensation still in the 7-figure range and higher. They also produced past notes and referenced comments from prominent music group CEO’s such as Doug Morris and Edgar Bronfman Jr., which seem to indicate the labels are aware that piracy is a consumer problem more than anything, likewise adding that recent history shows any time a file-sharing service has gone offline, the public just shifts to the next best option…. Elsewhere, Spotify has released a new and improved app that has many seeing it as an aggressive move on Apple‘s iTunes store and a clear indication that the start up’s aims remain high (and possibly that a U.S. launch is even closer). The new version allows users to directly sync music on iPods, and in a further affront, the service has also introduced the selling of downloads, coming in the form of bundles enabling users to purchase playlists. Said CEO Daniel Ek, “From today, Spotify really is the only music player you’ll ever need”…
Bits & Pieces: Warner Closes Final Round – Will the Victor Go the EMI Spoils Too?, Radio Staff Grows at Q Prime & more…
The final round in the Warner Music auction closed yesterday, with two primary bidders said to be vying for the company, one being Len Blavatnik’s Access Industries and the other, a coalition of brothers Tom and Alec Gores, whose respective company’s are Platinum Equity and Gores Group – both suitors reportedly tendered bids around $3billion for the entirety of WMG. Attention has begun to drift to the looming sale of EMI by owner Citigroup, and the belief de-jour is that whomever ends up nabbing Warner Music, will also be aggressive in securing EMI as well. The result would likely be a cut and paste job between the various components of the two music groups. In another twist, The Telegraph reported yesterday that KKR-backed BMG Rights Management and Universal Music Group may be teaming up in an attempt to acquire either or both EMI and Warners, having put together a plan to carve up catalogues in an effort to avoid regulatory hurdles… Elsewhere, according to FMQB, Q Prime is expanding its promotion team, with an emphasis on bolstering the undertakings of its premier management operation, with a roster including Cage the Elephant, The Black Keys, Silversun Pickups, Snow Patrol, Muse and many others. Q Prime’s Mom + Pop Records, who has releases from Sleigh Bells, Metric, Freelance Whales among others, should also benefit from the increased staff. The additions include Trina Schaefer (formerly of Island Def Jam), Erin Gellert (formerly of Epic Records), Devin Rosevear, Chris Frank (formerly of Universal Motown) and Michael Fang (formerly of Red)… Meanwhile, the news of a nearly 25 million additional user accounts being compromised in the recent PlayStation Network breach (77 million were initially reported) smacks of the Sony BMG rootkit blunder (and ensuing lawsuits), and it can’t be good news for Sony Corp. CEO Howard Stringer, whose term has recently begun to be put in question more frequently… And for an interesting read about some of what labels are said to be demanding from cloud music, or locker, services (efforts from Amazon, Apple, Google and Spotify being the most widely discussed), check out the guest post from MP3.com and MP3Tunes founder Michael Robertson on TechCrunch.
[UPDATE - Bloomberg first reported yesterday that a last minute joint-offer for Warners was submitted by Sony/ATV Music Publishing and Ronald Perelman and Guggenheim Partners LLC. A winning bidder is expected to be announced on Friday.]
Plenty of talk today centers around Amazon diving into the digital music cloud-storage arena, by unveiling a new service today known as their Cloud Drive and Cloud Player. The basic concept for the most part is the same as what has been discussed by multiple companies for some time now as a new digital-music “locker” type of feature, which allows users to store their content online, in this case Amazon’s own storage servers, with the ability to access it from multiple devices and locations. To catch up on the central concept, Amazon created a nice little cartoon that explains how it works, watch it here… What has most folks chattering however, is that while Amazon is not the first to offer a service like this, it took the step ahead of Apple and Google, and reportedly without any additional licenses in place with the record companies. A rep from Sony was the first to comment publicly, saying that they were “disappointed” with Amazon’s move… This act first, ask later tactic is one that many digital music services have taken in recent years – many times ultimately surrendering to labels at a high-cost or shutting down completely, but none of them had the stature of Amazon. Furthermore according to comments from the company, they don’t believe they need any additional licenses for the current Cloud service, and would only engage in negotiations with labels if and when it is necessary to introduce more new cloud features, whatever those might be. Amazon is letting their customers decide – after all, user comments and feedback were the genesis of developing the new service, according to a Q&A with Billboard published today. Another interesting twist is that the new feature runs on the Android platform – how that will effect, or play into, Google’s own plans for a music service remain to be seen. The service is not currently available for Apple devices like the iPhone or iPad, and no information released indicates whether or not that will change.
The latest news on what Apple is planning for a cloud-based music service comes from Bloomberg, who reported yesterday that the company is negotiating with all four major music groups to expand the flexibility they offer users for accessing their music. The expansion would provide a backup for music content and do away with current limitations, giving users the ability to download music multiple times on devices linked to the same iTunes account, similar to the way apps work. The changes are likely to be tied to the renovations that are being planned for Apple’s MobileMe service, and could be the initial step towards a streaming music service in the future. No word as to dealmaking with the music publishers. Apple ran into a publisher roadblock with their initial efforts to expand song-sample clips recently, and reports have had Google Music hitting delays with publishing companies being reluctant to allow multiple downloads of the same music… Today Qtrax, the previously failed free on-demand music service that flopped before launch in 2008, is back and making the rounds online with tons of free music from EMI, Sony Music and Universal Music Group. For more details head to Evolver.fm… And Coca-Cola Music is real, and ready to launch as part of the company’s 2020 Vision global initiative. Later this month the campaign will kick off with Maroon 5 taking part in a “24hr Session” that will have the band holed-up in a London studio interacting with fans before emerging with a new original song…
It’s being reported the Warner Music Group is preparing to receive offers this week from a list of up to 20 bidders, the latest entry on the list of suitors is Russian businessman Len Blavatnik, who already owns a minority stake in Warner/Chappell Music. The KKR-backed BMG Rights Management venture is expected to be among bidders for WMG’s publishing division, having apparently tapped multiple banks to advise and provide financing. Though the move could also be to prepare bidding for the Citigroup-owned EMI Music, the other major music group currently on the block. Or maybe it’s both… EMI group CEO Roger Faxon continues his media tour, with a piece this week in The Guardian where he explains the pitfalls of splitting up the company’s recording and publishing divisions. Meanwhile, former owner Guy Hands expresses disappointment over losing EMI, his highest profile investment, to Citigroup… Details coming out over the weekend have Spotify getting a large amount of new financing in the range of $100million from Digital Sky Technologies (also backers of Facebook, Groupon and others), which would give the company a new valuation of around $1billion. If it seems like all that new money will just end up going to the labels in the U.S. in order to get off the ground (Spotify now has both Sony Music And EMI onboard), MediaMemo‘s Peter Kafka says think again… And how would the new Apple content subscription service fees hinder music services like Spotify? A cryptic email from Steve Jobs this week has many questioning if Apple is changing its tune on fees applying to music services.
Bits & Pieces: Warner/Chappell Losing MJ Admin, Sony Backs Off Anti-iTunes talk, Apple Making More Enemies & more…
A piece on Showbiz411 yesterday, revealed that Michael Jackson‘s publishing company MiJac Publishing, which is currently administered by Warner/Chappell Music and includes songs such as “Billie Jean” and “Beat It,” among others, will soon be moving to Sony/ATV Publishing. The shift was reportedly written into the contract with WCM, who has administered the catalog for years. It also comes on the heels of the announcement that Warner Music Group is shopping for a sale, most likely of its publishing arm, putting them in direct competition with Citigroup‘s plans for EMI Music. Insiders share that this is one of multiple similar scenarios WCM will face in the coming years… After abundant commentary last week on Sony Music‘s possible intention to abandon iTunes, following a report in an Australian publication, a comment from a Sony Network Entertainment executive indicates that is in fact not the case, saying Sony Music has “no intention of withdrawing from iTunes, they’re one of our biggest partners in the digital domain.” Today also saw the announcement that Sony is launching its “iTunes rival” music service Qriocity in the U.S., though still without a mobile component. Currently Sony is focused on Playstation 3 as the primary vehicle for the music service, though it has plans to move into mobile in the future, and most likely on the Google Android platform first… More Google Music talk arose this week, with a Motorola executive tipping that the service will be included on Google’s new version of Android, Honeycomb, which will be tied to the new Motorola Xoom tablet… Following the details revealed this week by Apple for its new content subscription service, music services are upset over the 30% share for each subscription that goes to Apple, in addition to the fees already being paid to content owners. Among them, Rhapsody, has gone as far floating the possibility of legal action… Elsewhere, Topspin has announced a move into offering their direct-to-fan platform for all users… Through a sponsorship effort, Converse has saved the legendary punk enclave the 100 Club in London from closing… And this Death of the Music Industry chart, is getting lots of attention.
While Glassnote Entertainment‘s Mumford & Sons didn’t walk away with a Grammy award Sunday night, they did see a huge bump in one-day sales for their debut album Sigh No More. It currently is sitting atop the iTunes album chart at #1. Other winners and performers from the night, which saw the largest ratings for the award show in over a decade, are also getting a sales spike in the wake of the event… As anticipated, Pandora filed for an IPO last Friday seeking to raise $100 million, making it the first Internet-music company to go public since Napster went bankrupt in 2002. In filing, it was revealed, among other things, that the company spends half of its revenues on acquiring content, a fact that AllThingsDigital‘s Peter Kafka points out, isn’t a bad thing… Reports over the weekend have Apple considering the possibility of turning its paid MobileMe storage service, into a free “locker” for personal memorabilia such as photos, music and videos – reigniting talk of the company’s move into offering a streaming-music function. Meanwhile today, Apple announced the launch of a content subscription system for music, videos, newspapers, magazines and other forms of content, which will work similarly to app purchases, except that customers choose their type of subscription. As for what it might mean specifically for music, Evolver.fm points out; on-demand subscriptions like MOG, Rhapsody, Napster and Spotify, and the paid version of interactive radio services such as Last.fm, Pandora and Slacker, can now charge you for a subscription right within iTunes, with the same convenience for you — and the same loss of revenue for them... Radiohead has announced details about their new album The King of Limbs, which will see a digital release this weekend, a month ahead of a physical release via XL Recordings. The band’s co-manager explains to Music Week the reason behind not releasing the new album in the same manner as In Rainbows… Former EMI Music A&R prexy Nick Gatfield has been named President Of Music Division for Sony Music UK, reporting to Chairman and CEO Ged Doherty… And does Guy Hands really want to double down and make a bid for both Warner Music and EMI?