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"The team handling the case felt Universal was pulling the wool over their eyes. On the other side, Vivendi grew furious about the hurdles being put in the way."
UMG-EMI: WELCOME TO
THE NEW WORLD
The Much-Debated $1.9 Billion Acquisition Will be Approved on Friday

It's game on, and as Nikki Finke likes to say, "We toldja so."

 

European Union regulators are set to approve UMG’s $1.9 billion acquisition of EMI on Friday, but will require the company to sell off global rights to many of the British music group’s most treasured record labels, according to the Wall Street Journal and Reuters.

 

After months of fraught negotiations, the approval will cement Vivendi’s company as the world’s largest set of music labels. It is estimated UMG must sell off 60% of EMI’s business in Europe by revenue.  

 

The commission's decision will be issued as a brief, written statement, marking the end of months of haggling. Regulators forced the record company to beef up its original package of concessions in July after it was deemed insufficient by regulators and competitors. The demand set the initial deadline for a verdict from early to late September, with Universal having paid more than 90% of the purchase price for EMI to previous owner Citigroup on Sept. 11.

 

The deal is expected to pass muster with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. The merger has already been cleared in several other countries, including Japan, Canada and, yesterday, Australia

"The decision has been made, though it has come at a very heavy price for Universal," one person involved in the EU approval talks told the WSJ. "The next question is whether they will recoup the losses on its disposals and whether they will go to a single buyer."

 

The company will have to part with EMI assets that generate roughly €350 million ($457 million) in yearly European revenue, including much of the Parlophone label, which includes acts such as Coldplay, Queen and Gorillaz, though not the Beatles. In addition, it will give up EMI affiliates in over a half a dozen European countries, including France, Spain, Sweden and Poland. Smaller EMI brands such as Ensign and Mute, Virgin Classics and Chrysalis are also being sold, along with EMI's share of the Now music compilations.

The asset sale will be handled by Goldman Sachs Inc.

Among the potential buyers for EMI's assets could be bitter rival Access IndustriesWMG, which tried to block Universal's purchase on the grounds that it would create a 900-lb. gorilla that would flatten other market players such as itself. Other potential buyers include BMG Rights Management along with the usual private equity suspects.

 

The regulatory process apparently took its toll on both sides. "The team handling the case felt Universal was pulling the wool over their eyes. On the other side, Vivendi grew furious about the hurdles being put in the way," a source told the WSJ.

 

Euro indie label org IMPALA had been particularly vocal in its opposition and earlier this week again urged the commission to block a merger than poses "a real danger in nearly all member states." If the deal is cleared as expected, the organization may consider an appeal, which would refer the case to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

Vivendi is currently considering other major asset sales, which include, aside from Universal, videogame maker Activision Blizzard and TV operator Canal Plus, along with telecommunications companies in France, Morocco and Brazil.

 

 

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