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NEAR TRUTHS: VALUED ASSETS

VIRGIN LANDSCAPE: Industry eyes are on the new Virgin team as they begin to roll. Will JT Myers and Nat Pastor, the savvy execs heading the team, be able to build up their global distribution network to compete with The Orchard, which has dominated the sector for the last few years? Advanced tech with granular analytics seems to be at the core of their plan for growth as they integrate Ingrooves and the rest of UMG’s indie ventures under a single umbrella. It’s a huge commitment to put boots on the ground all over Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, Mexico and other far-flung territories. Myers and Pastor are known to give great meeting—it’ll be fascinating to watch their next moves. Virgin North America president Jacqueline Saturn, whose brief was recently expanded, will undoubtedly prove instrumental in closing deals, thanks to her considerable experience with indie labels and acts.

NAV-IGATING: Efforts by certain parties to write a business obituary for Merck Mercuriadis and Hipgnosis have proved to be very premature. Despite the recent turmoil at the company over stock price and valuation, among other matters, at the heart of the story is the call option Merck set up for himself and Blackstone-backed Hipgnosis Songs Management. This enables Merck and HSM to purchase the assets of Hipgnosis Songs Fund according to a pre-set formula based either on current stock price or the price set by an independent valuer, whichever is greater.

The disruptive exec has proved resourceful under pressure and seems to have weathered the storm from the press. The question of Hipgnosis’ valuation remains key—if based on net asset value (NAV), it is supposedly in the range of $2.4b, but if based on market cap at its present stock price it is around $1.1b.

The latest development in the Hipgnosis saga finds HSF tapping finance veteran Rob Naylor—most recently of Round Hill Music Royalty Fund—as non-executive chair, and naming Francis Keeling (who served on the Round Hill board) non-executive director.

While it’s too early to tell how things will work out, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Merck ending up in control of a very substantial asset.

BRAUN OUT/BLACKOUT: After all the drama of recent weeks, the landscape is now eerily quiet around the Scooter Braun management situation. What’s happening with Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande? Inquiring minds want to know. Aaron Rosenberg, David Lande, Michael Rhodes, Lou Taylor and company should be working things out—why no news?

Is there any truth to the rumor that the tale of Justin and Scooter isn’t over? Justin still has deep financial problems, even after his $200m catalog deal with Hipgnosis and the paying off of his debts. But he’s been working on new music that people close to the situation say is great. It’s hard to conceive of him finding a solution to his money woes and putting out a new record without Scooter—who has always brought the special sauce—by his side, as he’s been since Justin was 13. Scooter is one of the great promoters of our time; his marketing and branding brilliance, after all, helped make Biebs into one of the biggest artists in the world. Meanwhile, how big a role is Hailey Bieber playing as this unfolds?

Ariana, who is said to be contemplating new management, has been out of the game for a while now after several years of putting a great deal of strong material into the marketplace. Will she surprise fans with something fabulous? Pop artists who stay out of the limelight for too long can sometimes face difficulties when they return. But Ariana will have a huge look with Wicked in 2024, and she is likely to be in an entirely new chapter of her career by then.

Meanwhile, Scooter and his HYBE team now have a fully fledged solo breakout in BIGHIT/Geffen act and erstwhile BTS member Jung Kook, who has two giant global Spotify tracks (including the #1 song as of this writing) and is a contender for a #1 bow on our Top 50 chart.