One of the biggest music publishing deals in living memory has been given unconditional approval by EU regulators. Sony Corp. can now buy out the 50% stake in Sony/ATV that was owned by Michael Jackson (and subsequently controlled by his estate following his death in 2009), with a price tag of $750m.
Regulators argued, despite heavy lobbying from organisations such as Impala and Warner Music Group, that the deal was not anticompetitive. “The transaction will not materially increase Sony’s market power vis-a-vis digital music providers compared to the situation prior to the merger,” ran their statement. The deal has still to clear the US Federal Trade Commission but the history of other mergers in the music space since the turn of the millennium have tended to suggest that, if EU regulators give it the green light, it is a mere formality in the US. Sony/ATV Music Publishing was created in 1995 after Jackson merged his interests in ATV Music Publishing (which he acquired a decade earlier after outbidding The Entertainment Co, a consortium fronted by Charles Koppelman and Marty Bandier). The deal famously soured Jackson’s relationship with Paul McCartney (as it covered The Beatles’ compositions) because it was McCartney who first alerted Jackson to the commercial worth of acquiring publishing catalogues. What this deal will mean is that the Jackson estate could generate close to $1bn this year, making it the most lucrative artist estate in history across a 12-month trading period. To put this in context, Forbes reports that Jackson’s estate generated $115m in 2015. The second most lucrative artist estate last year was the Elvis Presley estate with revenues of $55m.