An employee stands next to a display of headphones at the newly refurbished Apple Inc. store on Regent Street in London, U.K. (Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)  

Millions of Music Hits May Soon Be for Sale. Will Sony Buy Them?

(Bloomberg) -- Sony Corp. held preliminary talks to acquire a majority stake in EMI Music Publishing, according to people with knowledge of the matter, as its Abu Dhabi-based owner seeks to cash in on the booming market for streamed music.

Mubadala Investment Co. has begun reaching out to potential suitors for the catalog of more than 2.1 million songs, which includes hits from Beyonce and Carole King, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private information. The Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund has held talks with Sony and approached other possible buyers, including entertainment groups and potential financial bidders, the people said.

Adding EMI’s extensive catalog would solidify Sony’s position as the largest music publisher, as paid streaming services proliferate and valuations for music copyrights soar. The Tokyo-based company already owns almost 40 percent of EMI, and operates the business.

Mubadala has signaled its intent to sell its majority holding, the people said, and plans to exercise an option that would force Sony to acquire its stake or trigger a sale of the entire company. While that process can’t formally begin until the end of June, the people said, Mubadala is already reaching out to interested parties to gauge pricing.

Mubadala is seeking a valuation of at least $4 billion for EMI, the people said, almost double what the Sony-led group, which also includes billionaire David Geffen, paid for the business six years ago. A sale would be the largest music-industry transaction since the last time EMI changed hands.

Competitors Lurk

If the parties fail to reach an agreement, Sony risks losing the catalog to one of its largest competitors. Billionaire Len Blavatnik, the owner of Warner Music Group, has expressed interest in EMI, two of the people said.

Sony and Mubadala declined to comment on the talks.

Sony’s new Chief Executive Officer Kenichiro Yoshida has said he likes businesses with recurring revenue. Music publishing has long offered owners a steady source of cash, in contrast with the more cyclical recorded music business, which is dependent on hits and retail sales and has historically risen and fallen depending on the success of new releases in a given quarter.

The company had almost $12 billion in cash and equivalents on its balance sheet as of December, and last month lifted its profit forecast for the fiscal year through March.

Streaming Services

Growing paid streaming services from Spotify Ltd. and Apple Inc. have boosted music-industry sales for three years in a row and enticed investors to splurge on catalogs. Labels own the recordings of songs, while publishers own the songs as originally written.

Swedish company Kobalt Music Group Ltd. raised $600 million last year to spend on copyrights, and acquired Songs Music Publishing, the home of Lorde and the Weeknd. Concord Bicycle Music agreed to purchase Imagem, owner of some 250,000 copyrights including Justin Timberlake and Phil Collins, for several hundred million dollars.

EMI is far larger than any of those companies and was one of the four major music groups, alongside Universal, Warner and Sony, until it was broken up and sold in 2011. Universal Music Group, the largest record label consortium, acquired EMI’s recording business while Sony, the largest publishing business, bought those assets.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.