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Warner Music acquired by Access Industries

Access Industries has acquired Warner Music Group, the world’s third-largest recording company, for $3

By PETER WHITE

Published: 19 May, 2011

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Access Industries has acquired Warner Music Group, the world’s third-largest recording company, for $3.3 billion, including the assumption of about $2 billion of Warner’s debt. The deal includes all recordings and music publishing.

WMG’s revenues declined 6.7% in its most recent fiscal year and its losses increased to $143 million.

The four major labels in order of size are:

- Universal Music Group, owned by France-based Vivendi

- Sony Music Group, totally owned now by Sony

- Warner Music Group

- EMI, owned by CitiGroup, which took it over from Terra Firma Capital Partners after a loan default

The deal is expected to be completed in 2011’s third quarter and is subject to regulatory approval. If Warner pulls out before the deal is consummated, it must pay Access $56 million. If Access pulls out, it must pay Warner $60 million.

Blavatnik made his money in Russia in natural resources and oil but it’s not his first media company. He owns or controls Acision, messaging solutions for mobile operators; Top Up TV, which launched in March 2004 on Freeview and broadcasts British Eurosport, UKTV Gold, Discovery Channel, TCM, Cartoon Network, Discovery Real Time, UKTV Food, and Bloomberg; Ice.net — a mobile telecom services provider in Scandinavia with 100,000 subscribers; Amedia, Russia’s largest TV production company and the LA-based Icon Group that Mel Gibson partly owns.

The recorded music industry is like the business of residential telephone and DVD rental stores in many respects. They all have declining revenue. US recorded music sales are half of what they were ten years ago. Music CD sales are still declining. Digital music showed sales growth in the early years of digital media but has flattened recently.

The labels still face the same two hurdles it faced ten years ago:

- Consumers, especially the young who buy most music, have grown accustomed to getting music for free on the Net and from friends. Where are the record stores? The first thing that pops up when a music CD is inserted in a PC is “Do you want to copy this?” Most of the baby boomers have already collected their music library and nothing new attracts them.

- Consumers’ time and attention, and again especially the young, have been drawn to other activities such as texting, gaming, phone calls, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and watching TV shows on the Web.

With little likelihood of increasing revenues at Warner Music, Blavatnik faces the challenge of reducing operating expenses sufficiently to make it profitable. Either that or he could buy EMI and consolidate the back-office operations of both companies — downsizing.

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