Warner Music Group (WMG) announced Friday, May 6 that it will be acquired by investment company Access Industries for $3.3 billion. While the news is a large story in itself, as WMG is one of the last four major record labels remaining, the real impact may come in what this deal means for the future of the record label, as well as for the industry at large. The acquisition has already sparked remarks that Access Industries may attempt to purchase rival label EMI and merge the two companies. Additionally, the move takes WMG from being a publicly shared company on the New York Stock Exchange to being a privately held organization.
Access Industries, a U.S. based industrial group with worldwide investments, placed the winning bid against at least 10 other bidders in the auction style sale of WMG. The record label had previously announced plans to look into strategic options for the company, which included the possibility of a sale.
With its purchase, Access Industries acquires both the music recording and publishing divisions of the company. The catalog it will inherit includes Led Zepplin, R.E.M. and Green Day, among many more. But if it becomes true that Access Industries will also bid on EMI, to be put up for auction by its owner Citigroup later this year, the merging of the two labels also would include the catalog of the Beatles, Radiohead, Coldplay and others. Of course both the initial acquisition of WMG and the later merging with EMI, if it occurs, will have to be approved by federal regulatory committees. This could prove to be a large hurdle, particularly in the latter scenario.
Though there could be additional obstacles in addition to regulatory approval, particularly other private bidders, experts estimate the merging of the two companies could save around $300 million in overhead costs. This possibly could allow Access Industries to outbid other private equity firms because of the long-term savings they would accrue as the two labels become one.
As previously noted, the deal will convert WMG into a privately held company when it closes, which is expected to occur in the third quarter of this year. Though this initially will not result in a restructuring of the company’s personnel or facilities, it could lead to changes in the label’s business model.
Experts see the move to a privately held company as a way for executives to take bigger gambles with new business models to combat the current trends of low record sales and widespread music piracy. Outside of the public scrutiny of shareholders, leaders at company will be able to more freely attempt new and different approaches to continue to make money in a music industry that is constantly evolving with the rampant use of digital media in the past couple decades.
The practical ramifications of this acquisition, of course, remain to be seen. Though no shake-ups in leadership at WMG are expected at this point, only the future holds the answer as to whether this will hold true in the long run. Additionally, the relative freedom of moving to a privately held company may end up being a blessing, a curse or both. All that is known for sure is that this deal is just another step in made by a major label to stay relevant in the current volatile state of the music industry.