Live Nation, the concert and ticketing company, has put in a bid for the Warner Music Group. The emergence of Live Nation as one of the bidders for the Warner Music Group brings to three the number of strategic players involved in the auction. But unlike the other two strategic suitors, Sony Music Entertainment and BMG Chrysalis, Live Nation has only bid on WMG's recorded music operations, according to sources who spoke with the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post; the bid has been confirmed by Billboard.biz.
Live Nation chairman Irving Azoff has a long and colorful history in the record business, beginning first in artist management and then heading up MCA Records during the 1980s before launching Warner-affiliated Giant Records, which was in operation during the 1990s. Should the WMG private equity owners decide to sell the major piecemeal, that could bring Azoff back into the mainstream record business. However, such a deal would likely require close scrutiny from governmental regulatory agencies.
But its bid for WMG comes only after it largely abandoned plans to compete with record labels by signing superstar artists like Madonna and Jay-Z to 360-deals, also known as multi-rights deals; the company has said it will not sign any more artists to 360 deals.
While some speculated that Live Nation would distribute albums from the artists that it had already signed, Azoff never specified how the company would handle those records. For instance, when asked if Live Nation would issue recorded content, he told Billboard, "Live Nation prior to the merger entered into some of these all-rights deals, so there are certain artists, Madonna being one of them, [for whom] there is a recorded music strategy. Once she gets the album recorded, we'll sit down with her and her manager Guy Oseary and figure out what's best for the record. It has to start with the music."
Certainly, the acquisition of WMG would answer that question, but it seems unlikely that it was the main motivation behind Live Nation's bid. More likely, it is looking for synergies in other aspects of its business, like the FrontLine Managment operation and its direct-sales to consumers businesses.
Meanwhile, sources indicate that the WMG auction could come to a head sometime in April. Other bidders include Tamares, a private investment group headed up by Finnish billionaire businessman Poju Zabludowicz; Guggenheim Partners, a principal owner of Billboard parent company Prometheus Group; Access Industries chairman Len Blavatnik, who already holds a 2% stake in WMG; and European private-equity firm Permira; supermarket magnate Ron Burkle's Yucaipa Companies;. and private-equity firms Platinum Equity and the Gores Group, who in the past have all declined to comment or have not responded to inquiries about their involvement in the auction.
Representatives for WMG and Live Nation declined to comment.