Lucian Grainge’s Universal Music Group is due to partly change hands this year, as its parent company, the French media company Vivendi, prepares to sell up to 50 percent of its music arm. It will not be a cheap buy: On Monday, Deutsche Bank said in a report that it believes UMG is worth €29 billion ($33.25 billion) — a price tag that would make the company more valuable than the €28 billion Vivendi itself.
UMG’s impending partial sale — the record industry’s biggest deal in recent years — is expected to close before the end of 2019, according to Vivendi’s latest plans from the last year. Deutsche Bank’s new $33.25 billion valuation for UMG, which is a significant increase from the $22.9 billion figure the financial giant had previously tagged onto the music company, would be in line with what Vivendi itself expects. “The valuation of Spotify is interesting,” Vivendi’s CEO Arnaud de Puyfontaine said on an earnings call in May 2018, shortly after Spotify made its closely watched debut on the New York Stock Exchange with a market cap of around $29 billion. “We believe the valuation of UMG is above that.”
Vivendi has actually suggested in the past that UMG could be worth as much as $40 billion (a figure viewed with some amount of skepticism among music analysts, but not wholly impossible). The company posted strong 2018 quarters and its complete results from the year, which will be key in determining its final value for the partial sale, will be out on February 14th, 2019.
As for suitors who possess both the interest and the depth of pockets for such a purchase: Deutsche Bank cites Chinese media giant Tencent, which floated its music arm on U.S. market last year, as well as Alibaba, Alphabet/Google, Facebook, Spotify, Amazon and Apple as interested parties. Liberty Media, which owns SiriusXM and a third of Live Nation, is also being regarded as a likely party to throw its hat into the ring. Liberty CEO Creg Maffei said in November at his company’s annual investor meeting that he will “absolutely” look at UMG “if presented” the opportunity. “Does [it] potentially make some sense, to own a part of the content infrastructure as a way to hedge [royalty costs]? Absolutely,” Maffei emphasized.
UMG is currently home to major labels such as Interscope, Capitol, Republic, Island and Def Jam, giving it a roster that includes the likes of Drake, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, The Beatles, Guns N’ Roses, Jay-Z, U2, Queen and Pink Floyd. It’s the strong performance of that lineup in music consumption this last year — whether through streaming figures, sales, merchandise or other sources — that has led Deutsche Bank to upgrade its valuation and pronounce that there is now “scope for valuation to surprise to the upside” in the second half of 2019.