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Seven Highlights From Music Companies’ Quarterly Earnings Reports

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Music companies’ third-quarter earnings reports have so far been full of good news and positive trends. Subscription and streaming growth continue to drive revenues for record labels and publishers. Live entertainment continues its post-pandemic expansion. Margins are healthy. Overall, these have been solid report cards for the state of the music business.

Among the companies to report thus far are Universal Music Group, Sony Music, Spotify, Believe, Sphere Entertainment Co., MSG Entertainment, HYBE and SiriusXM. Next week’s earnings reports will come from Warner Music Group (Nov. 16) and Tencent Music Entertainment (Nov. 14). German concert promoter CTS Eventim will report on Nov. 21.

Here are seven items from the earnings releases to date that stood out and deserve more attention.

Universal Music Group struck out against “merchants of garbage.” During Universal Music Group’s Oct. 26 earnings call, chairman and CEO Lucian Grainge got a lot of attention when he bemoaned the “merchants of garbage” — creators of low-value functional music such as generic mood music and nature sounds — that want to be on equal royalty terms at streaming platforms as such UMG artists as Taylor Swift, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Grainge’s memorable turn of phrase came in defense of UMG’s artist-centric royalty scheme crafted in partnership with French music streaming service Deezer. “Sorry, I can’t really think of another word for content that no one really actually wants to listen to,” Grainge said.

Spotify’s price increase gave a much-needed uplift to subscription revenues. The price for an individual Spotify subscription in the U.S. was $9.99 from 2011 to July 2023. The price hike to $10.99 in roughly 50 markets may have arrived later than its competitors, but it came just when Spotify needed a boost. Spotify’s premium average revenue per user dropped 6% year over year (1% at constant currency) mainly because the company had a larger share of family plans compared to the prior-year, CFO Paul Vogel said during the July 25 earnings call. Early returns from the price increase in the U.S., U.K. and dozens of other markets helped offset those losses. Because Spotify’s number of subscribers increased 16% year over year to 226 million, subscription revenue grew 10% year over year (16% at constant currency) to 2.9 billion euros ($3.1 billion). With three full months of a price increase in the fourth quarter and considering the price increase covered about 75% of Spotify’s revenue base, the company expects the price increase to provide “a positive, mid-single digit” benefit (excluding foreign exchange) in the fourth quarter, said Vogel.

No company lowered guidance, and some have raised guidance. Sony Music raised guidance for revenue and adjusted operating income before depreciation and amortization by 5% and 4%, respectively. Reservoir Media raised guidance for fiscal 2024 revenue and adjusted EBITDA by 10% each. It’s one thing for a company to meet expectations it had previously laid out to investors. But raising previously released expectations is something else altogether — a sign the future will be better than expected. It’s usually a benefit to the stock price, too. The share price is the present value of future cash flows. When an estimate for future cash flows takes a sudden jump, that changes the financial model used to calculate the share price.

Consumers aren’t slowing their spending on live music. In August, concerns arose that a resumption of student loan payments, paused to help people struggling during the pandemic, would take a bite out of pocketbooks and cause music fans to pull back on the record amounts they were spending on live entertainment. Three months later, there is no indication that consumers are slowing down, according to Live Nation. “We’re seeing no sign of weaknesses,” said president and CFO Joe Berchtold, noting that Ticketmaster’s October sales in North American were up double-digits year over year. “We’re not seeing any pullback in any way from a club to a stadium tour from Milan to Argentina right now,” added president and CEO Michael Rapino.

SM Entertainment has big plans for its new publishing subsidiary, Kreation Music Rights. The K-pop stalwart has been “aggressively recruiting global writers” and plans to have 80 of them under contract this year, CEO Jang Cheol Hyuk said during the Nov. 8 earnings call. SM Entertainment is pursuing collaborations with both domestic and international publishers and plans to recruit foreign writers “who wish to advance into K-pop by establishing overseas subsidiaries,” Jiang said.

Radio advertising continues to struggle — but the clouds may be starting to part. iHeartMedia’s October revenues were down 8% and the company expects its fourth-quarter revenue excluding political revenue to be down in the mid-single digit percent year over year. The fourth quarter will be iHeartMedia’s strongest quarter of the year “but will be weaker than we originally anticipated due to some dampening of advertising demand which coincided with the uncertainty caused by the recent geopolitical events,” CEO Bob Pittman said during Thursday’s earnings call. That said, iHeartMedia’s digital business “is sort of in recovery mode,” said Pittman, and the company is “seeing the pieces falling into place” for radio’s recovery as most advertisers expect to be “back in growth mode…and spending to support that” in 2024.

The market for catalog acquisitions isn’t slowing down. Reservoir Media CEO Golnar Khosrowshahi said catalog prices aren’t contracting despite higher interest rates. “We’re still seeing a lot of demand for assets and continued infusion of new capital within the competitive set,” she said during Tuesday’s earnings call. “And that is certainly fueling the demand. The pipeline is robust. And it ranges in size from large to a lot of smaller deals.” Reservoir Media hasn’t been suffering from sticker shock, though. Acquisitions in the Middle East-North Africa market — such as some catalog of Saudi Arabian label Mashrex in June — provide the company with good value, Khosrowshahi added. “If we’re looking at a market here that is somewhat saturated with a lot of capital in the marketplace, and we’re able to execute [deals in MENA] at these lower multiples, that makes it just that much more attractive to us.”

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