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Imagem now claims to be the biggest indie music publisher in the world.

BMG RIGHTS MGMT., DARK-HORSE BIDDERS POISED TO POUNCE

You Can’t Tell the Bidders Without a Scorecard, and We’re Here to Help
As the expected sale of the century approaches, WMG now appears to be very much in play right alongside EMI, bringing the increasing likelihood that two of the biggest publishing companies and two of the four major recorded-music operations will change hands in the near future. The buying entities, whoever they turn out to be, will then spur further transactions through the disposal of assets in order to increase the chances of getting through regulatory scrutiny from the EC, much as UMG did two years ago when it acquired BMG Songs.

With all these assets expected to be on the block, the field of potential bidders is coming into focus. The highest-profile player is BMG Rights Management, the deep-pocketed, aggressively acquisitive joint venture between Bertelsmann and New York private equity outfit KKR, while UMG and Sony Music could conceivably choose to cherry-pick from among the available assets. The X-factor (as usual) is Warner Music, which could turn out to be a buyer as well as a seller (see next paragraph). But these three powers could get some competition from a number of dark horses. Here are three prospective parties who could make hay in the weeks and months to come:

LEN BLAVATNIK: The reported latest bidder for Warner/Chappell is a Russian-born U.S. billionaire who runs a real estate, resources and media group called Access Industries, which owns about 2% of Warner Music. A former member of the WMG board, he remains a good pal of Edgar Bronfman, Blavatnik has a number of media investments, ranging from a TV production company in Russia to the U.K.’s Top Up TV. He showed interest in backing MGM last year and has also invested in Perform, a sports media rights business expected to seek a stock market listing soon. Blavatnik is said to be chiefly interested in Warner/Chappell, the sale of which could clear the way for Bronfman to make a bid on EMI Music—that’s the record company—though some question whether the Warner chief would sell off his primary asset without the certainty of getting the prize he has sought for so long. People familiar with the auction process said Blavatnik was leaning toward submitting a first-round offer in the next few days.

IMAGEM: This four-year-old, Netherlands-based pubco came on the radar in 2009, when it snagged Zomba U.K., Rondor U.K., 19 Music, Boosey & Hawkes and other assets from UMG during that company’s acquisition of BMG’s publishing company. After the subsequent pick-up of the Rogers & Hammerstein catalog, Imagem now claims to be the biggest indie music publisher in the world.

GUY HANDS: Yes, him again. The battered Terra Firma boss simply won't go away, and wonderers are wondering whether his stubbornness and bluster are fueled by the intense ego need to make himself look like he can come back and win this time, or whether he’s simply a glutton for punishment? Either way, this once-respected business mogul now appears to be in a deeply delusional state. The smart money is on Hands getting his arse kicked yet again if he attempts to reenter the music sector. Some believe Bronfman and his own private equity posse can’t wait for the chance to take Hands to the separator, whether he chooses to buy back EMI or to make a move on WMG. But give the guy props for bringing a whole new form of wackiness to the biz.

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