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BMI Releases First Earnings Report After For-Profit Switch — And There’s Not Much Financial Info in It

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BMI has released its annual report for its fiscal year and, for the first time ever, it hardly contains any financial information.

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Such information as how much it collected or distributed in the recently completed year is not revealed in the annual report, even though BMI has historically revealed detailed financial information every year. The report also doesn’t show how much collection and distribution amounts changed from the prior year’s $1.573 billion and $1.471 billion, respectively.

The only information indicating BMI’s financial performance in the year is an observation by BMI president and CEO Mike O’Neill that “every distribution we issued in our last fiscal year was higher than the corresponding one from the previous year.” No further specifics were provided.

The only numbers in the entire annual report that give any indication of how much activity BMI tracked in the year was a note that the performance rights organization processed 2.61 trillion performances, while its membership grew 7% to 1.4 million affiliates, and that it licenses and collects on behalf of 22.4 million works. Dollar amounts only appear once in the 24-page report, when O’Neill states in the opening note that BMI’s November distribution is forecast to be $400 million — which he labeled another record “that would make BMI the first ever PRO to ever distribute this high an amount in a single quarter.” The November quarter is in its current fiscal year, and not a part of the completed year covered in the annual report.

Last October, BMI announced it was switching from a not-for-profit model to a for-profit one. Now, in an opening note to this latest report, O’Neill disclosed the organization’s goal is to distribute 85% of the licensing revenue it collects to songwriters and publishers. The other 15% of collections, he wrote, will cover overhead and allow BMI to achieve a modest profit margin, noting that expenses typically comprise about 10% of revenue. In recent years, BMI’s distribution has been about $90% of revenue.

If BMI creates new M&A opportunities, however, or enters new businesses or offers expanded services, O’Neill said that BMI “will look to take a higher margin on any revenue generated, though always with the goal of sharing that new growth with our affiliates.” In other words, for those business, BMI may not limit itself to a 5% profit margin.

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O’Neill also noted that “if BMI decides to seek outside capital or borrow money to invest in new services and opportunities, any repayments will come out of our retained profits and not distributions.”

In the current fiscal year, O’Neill reported that under the new business model BMI’s February distribution was its largest ever, up 6% over the previous year. That was then surpassed by the May distribution, which was up 15% over the corresponding year-earlier period. O’Neill predicted that the next two distributions for the remaining calendar year will follow that trend. For the full calendar year, distributions are projected to be 11% above calendar 2023, the report noted.

Going forward, O’Neill said BMI will announce percentage increases, but apparently will continue to withhold all other financial information.

Seemingly responding to immense pressure from the songwriter community and music publishers who have publicly expressed their unhappiness about BMI’s switch to profitability and its evasion of the many questions they asked, after disclosing the 85% distribution goal, O’Neill’s opening note repeats many of the thoughts he has already shared through open letters on the issue. “We changed our business model last year to invest in our company and position BMI for continued success in our rapidly evolving industry,” he wrote. “Our mission remains the same, to serve our songwriters, composers and publishers and continue to grow our overall distributions as BMI has done each year that I have been CEO. In order to continue this trajectory, we need to think more commercially, explore new sources of revenue and invest in our platforms to improve the quality of service we provide to you. I’m pleased to say that we have already made great progress on delivering these goals.”

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He also reiterated that BMI changed its business model to better position the company for success in a rapidly evolving industry. “Our mission remains the same, to serve our songwriters, composers and publishers and continue to grow our overall distributions as BMI has done each year that I have been CEO,” O’Neill wrote. “In order to continue this trajectory, we need to think more commercially, explore new sources of revenue and invest in our platforms to improve the quality of service we provide to you.”

While BMI can accomplish its plans and goals on its own, O’Neill wrote, “We also recognize the opportunity to substantially accelerate our growth by partnering with a like-minded, growth-oriented investor with a successful history of building businesses. Of course, that partner would need to share our vision that driving value for our affiliates goes hand-in-hand with growing our business and building a stronger BMI.”

As Billboard previously reported, BMI is in an exclusive period with New Mountain Capital in a deal to sell the PRO — which is currently owned by radio and television broadcasters — at a $1.7 billion valuation. The valuation, however, sources say, is under downward pressure as negotiations continue.

While stating nothing has yet been signed, O’Neill wrote that the for-profit business model and the strategy outlined “will hold true for BMI whether or not we move forward with a sale.” In other words, BMI will continue to be a for-profit business, regardless of whether it sells or not.

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