Ticketmaster, Live Nation close to merger

Talks said to be in advanced stage but could still fall apart

Ticketmaster Entertainment Inc. and Live Nation Inc. may unveil a merger as soon as this week, creating a music industry powerhouse with a combined market value of more than $700 million, a source briefed on the talks told Reuters on Tuesday.

If the deal goes ahead, the marriage of the world's biggest concert promoter and the leading ticketing and artist-management company will create a dominant force in the industry with ties to more than 200 artists, including the Eagles, Miley Cyrus, Christina Aguilera, Madonna and Jay-Z.

A successful deal will also crown Live Nation's long-standing efforts to mold itself into a diversified conglomerate with businesses beyond concert promotion.

A source briefed on the matter told Reuters that talks are at an advanced stage but could still fall apart over issues such as management control.

Another hurdle would be competition issues because such a merger would concentrate power in the music industry under one roof.

One senior music label source, who did not want to be identified, told Reuters the merger will "face major antitrust issues from managers, record companies, ticketing companies and concert promoters to name a few -- not to mention the Obama administration will be very tough on this stuff."

The new company would be called Live Nation Ticketmaster, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

The paper, citing unidentified sources, said the boards of both companies had yet to approve a merger. The deal will not involve any cash transfer, said the Journal, which was first to report on the advanced talks.

Ticketmaster spokesman Albert Lopez would not comment. Live Nation officials were not immediately available.

Live Nation has been trying to boost its thin concert-promoter margins by diversifying into adjacent businesses such as ticketing, which has margins as high as 25% vs. an average 4% from concert promotion.

In December, the firm said it expected no further growth in 2009 in the midst of a recession, even though it forecast fan attendance would rise 10%.

As part of its expansion thrust, the firm became known for signing big names like Madonna for so-called 360 deals that combine artist management with touring and merchandising.

Ticketmaster has also made forays into new territory. Last year, it acquired Front Line Management, which represented about 200 major acts.

Irving Azoff, head of Ticketmaster, and Live Nation chief executive Michael Rapino both are expected to remain at the combined organization, but their exact roles have not yet been nailed down, the Journal reported.

A person brief on the talks told Reuters that Rapino is expected to be the CEO of the combined company.