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Is Kobalt in play? The company has been in business nearly 20 years, with hundreds of millions floated by private investors, and the argument continues within the biz between skeptics who call the entity a house of cards and Kool-Aid drinkers who consider it new-model miracle. Founder Willard Ahdritz, known for his quirkiness, has long claimed that Kobalt collects more and pays faster than the competition; still, the entity has never turned a profit in two decades. The company includes not only the publishing/admin business but also a financial arm, Kobalt Capital, which acquired SONGS and other songwriting catalog; and AWAL, the indie label venture that’s had some minor success but so far looks like an even more difficult proposition to turn any profit.

The WMG IPO and the Tencent/UMG play have affected value throughout the business, exerting upward pressure on prices. Kobalt’s financiers, hoping to get a big return on all that investment, elected to move Ahdritz out of the CEO post (he remains Chairman), installing the operations-savvy Laurent Hubert in the CEO chair. Laurent has his work cut out for him in trimming the company’s considerable overhead. The process to ready Kobalt for either an IPO of its own or a sale may take a few years. Some investors (including some of the wealthiest corporate families in the world) feel they should sell, while others believe such a move would be premature. Assuming it goes up for sale, who might be buying? Ahdritz’s Wizard of Oz mystique is particularly strong with the tech-inclined, and it’s believed that some big players in Asia could top the list of potential buyers. Then there are the major pubcos, who’ve downplayed Kobalt’s effectiveness—but some of whom could undoubtedly benefit by integrating its highly streamlined infrastructure and those admin deals.

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