The European commission has approved Sony Corp.'s plan to become the sole owner of EMI Music Publishing through its agreement to acquire the shares of Mubadala Investment Company and its consortium partners.
That deal was given the go-ahead despite a furious effort by European independent labels, publishers and trade groups representing them to stop the deal; or at the very least have the Commission force Sony into selling off some assets; as it did the last time when the original deal was announced.
But "the Commission concluded that the transaction would raise no competition concerns in any of the affected markets and cleared the case unconditionally."
With that ruling, IMPALA, the trade group representing indie record labels and indie music publishers issued a statement strongly disagreeing with the EU.
"This goes against the regulator's own precedents," IMPALA's executive chair Helen Smith said in a statement. "In 2012, it ruled that divestments were required for Sony to become a minority shareholder. Now that Sony is acquiring 100% control of EMI, it is being given unconditional approval. This is inconsistent and simply doesn't stack up. It is a poor advert for European merger control and sends an alarming message to independent businesses in all sectors, not just music."
According to the press release issued by the EU, the deal was approved under the EU merger regulation, with the investigation into the deal found that it "raises no competition concerns, in particular, as it will not increase Sony's market power vis-a-vis online platforms; because it doesn't lead to any increase in market share.
IMPALA predicts European regulators will offer "stiff competition" to a complete takeover by Sony.
Sony has completed its notification filing to the European Commission over its acquisition of EMI Music Publishing.
The regulator now has until 26 October (25 days from the date of submission) to make an initial assessment after which it can either grant approval or begin an in-depth phase two investigation into the proposed merger. If there are competition concerns, Sony can offer remedies thereby extending the phase one deadline by 10 working days.
Sony Corporation signed a deal in May to acquire a 60 percent share in EMI Music Publishing from a consortium led by the Mubadala Investment Company. The past year has also seen Sony complete the acquisition of the just under 10 percent share of EMI owned by the Michael Jackson Estate.
If approved by regulators, the deal would give Sony sole ownership of EMI, valued at $4.75 billion. That has led the Independent Music Companies Association (IMPALA) to lodge concerns with the European Commission (EC) over the transaction, which it claims would “disrupt competition and harm consumers in an already overly concentrated music market.”
When Sony acquired a minority 30 percent stake in EMI in 2012, the EC ruled that the merger would give Sony too much control and required it to make significant divestments, including selling the Rosetta catalog to BMG for around $90 million. It also required them to remain as two separate companies, although to the degree that mandate was fulfilled, EMI only employed a financial team to oversee the assets performance, for the Mubadala Capital and its partners in the 60 percent they owned. All other aspects of the operations between Sony/ATV and EMI were indeed merged.
2012 also saw the European Commission force Universal to sell a large number of assets, including Parlophone Records, when clearing its purchase of EMI. When Warner Music Group bought Parlophone Label Group the following year, Warner agreed to divest over $200 million in recorded music assets to the independent community as part of the conditions of the deal.
Why Sony Bought Bulk of EMI Before It Had To -- And What Competitors Could Win By Objecting To the Deal
Sony Corp. had until the end of August to put together a deal to buy Mubadala's stake in EMI Music Publishing, but it jumped the gun and paid handsomely, this week announcing it would snap up 90 percent of EMI at a price that values the whole publishing unit at $4.75 billion, more than double its price in 2012.
Why would Sony press fast-forward? There are several reasons.
For one, sources say Sony's new CEO Kenichiro Yoshida likes recurring revenue and investing in intellectual property, something that music publishing promises. By acting early, he was able to mark the start of his tenure with a show of decisiveness, rather than waffling while waiting for the sell-mechanism process built into the Sony-led consortium's initial EMI purchase in 2012 to play out. (EMI's non-strategic investors, known as Partners A, were allowed to initiate a sale of their stakes six years after the June 29, 2012 closing date to Partners B, Sony and the Michael Jackson estate, which would have had a two-month exclusive window to buy or pass, potentially sending the shares to auction.)
"He definitely wanted this deal," so why wait, says one executive familiar with the deal.
Two: the valuation of EMI could have skyrocketed in the months ahead. While the $4.75 billion price, with about $320 million in net publisher's share, or gross profit, means that EMI traded at nearly a 15 times multiple, "a very full price," says one veteran music publishing asset investor, other executives noted that $4.75 billion might look like a steal if Vivendi opts to spin off Universal Music Group in a new stock offering, which would likely dwarf Spotify's $28 billion valuation given its vast catalog of music rights. If and when analysts value UMG, their assessment of its Universal Music Publishing Group may also put other music publishers' valuations into the stratosphere.
Given that the latest Sony/EMI merger would give Sony complete ownership of EMI Music Publishing, IMPALA’s executive chair Helen Smith predicts it is likely to be met by "stiff opposition" by European regulators.
"Sony’s power will be a particular concern in European countries where the EU already concluded in 2012 that Sony would control too much repertoire," said Smith in a statement opposing the deal.
Of particular concern to IMPALA is the prospect of Sony’s catalog growing from over 2.1 million compositions to around 4.2 million, dramatically increasing its power and influence when negotiating deals with artists, labels and digital services.
"The only solution is to block the deal now,” argued Smith, saying that drastic measures were needed "to avoid long term harm for consumers as well as other players in the music sector.”
Sony declined to comment on IMPALA's concerns when reached.
Songwriters, streaming services, independent publishers, collecting societies and record companies would all be negatively impacted if the deal goes ahead, she warned.
The Independent Music Companies Association said it has "lodged concerns" with the European Commission about the transaction, which it describes as "seismic."
As expected, the Independent Music Companies Association (IMPALA) is formally opposing Sony’s play to become the sole owner of EMI Music Publishing, asking the European Commission to block the deal.
IMPALA had already objected to the deal when it was first announced, but now has gone a step further by filing an objection ahead of Sony’s petition for approval. Sources say Sony is still gathering and readying documents for that filing. The deal values EMI at $4.75 billion.
IMPALA said it has "lodged concerns" with the European Commission about the transaction, which it describes as "seismic." It noted that the deal would double the number of songs Sony controls from 2.16 million to 4.21 million and that, combined with EMI, Sony “would be the biggest and most formidable music company in the world.”
Sony has agreed to pay $1.3 billion in cash and assume another $1.36 billion in debt to buy out the 60 percent owned by consortium partners led by Abu Dhabi's Mubadala Investment Co. and the nearly 10 percent owned by the Michael JacksonEstate.
Sony Completes Acquisition of Michael Jackson Estate's Share of EMI Music Publishing
In announcing its financial results, the Sony Corp. revealed that it had acquired Michael Jackson’s estate share of EMI Music Publishing, paying it a total of $287.5 million.
That was apparently the first step in completing its pending acquisition of EMI Music Publishing from a consortium of investors, which still has to be vetted by governmental regulatory agencies before the deal can proceed. Sony is still in the process of filing the paper work for the proposed acquisition, according to sources, so the process of scrutinizing the deals impact on potential anti-trust issues has yet to begin, they say.
As it is, Sony has agreed to pay $2.3 billion to acquire EMI, as well as assume EMI’s debt of $1.359 billion. With Sony and Jackson’s share valued at $1.091 billion that gives EMI Music Publishing a valuation of $4.75 billion.
The Jackson estate held a 9.84% interest in EMI; or a 25.1% stake of the piece owned by Sony and the Jackson estate, which means that without putting up any money in the deal, by virtue of its stake in Sony/ATV, the Jackson estate received $287.5 million, not a bad return on a zero dollar investment.
Prior to this deal and before EMI Music Publishing came up for sale, the Jackson estate had sold its 50 percent share of Sony/ATV in 2016 and received $750 million in cash, which means that the Jackson estate has made over $1 billion since it has unwound its interest in those publishing assets.
While the Jackson estate, advised by Shot Tower Capitol, is overseen by two co-executors -- music industry executive John McClain and lawyer John Branca -- it is the latter, a partner in the law firm of Ziffren Brittenham LLP, who likely gets credit for making the shrewd publishing deals on behalf of the estate.
When Sony completes its acquisition -- if it gets the regulatory approval that is; the buyout of the Jackson estate didn't require it but the buyout of the other 60 percent does -- EMI Music Publishing will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Sony Corp, and will likely be legally merged into Sony/ATV, as it functionally already is.