INDEPENDENT MUSIC COMPANIES ASK EC TO INVESTIGATE EMI DIVESTMENT PROCESSES BY SONY AND UNIVERSAL
11th January, 2013
As Sony and Universal advance with selling off assets as part of the EC’s approval for the acquisition by the two market leaders of their former rival EMI, European independents confirmed today that they have asked the EC to intervene.
The trade body IMPALA has asked decision makers in Brussels to make sure the outcome promotes competition and does not strengthen the duopoly that exists between Universal and Sony.
The news comes as reports circulate this week that Sony and BMG, who are already understood to share a close working relationship, made a joint bid for Parlophone and other Universal/EMI assets. BMG was Sony’s choice of buyer for the publishing catalogues Virgin and Famous, with the deal announced on the same day as BMG was declared the buyer of Mute Records from Universal.
These facts are expected to raise alarm bells with the European regulator, who is responsible for reviewing the sale processes and deciding whether these deals meet strict criteria set by the EC to ensure the divestments have the desired effect. Any irregularities could turn the procedure into a full blown investigation.
Universal and Sony were allowed to buy EMI on the basis that the divestments they make would compensate for the reduction in competition in an adequate way. Strict rules apply to make sure this happens. First, the purchaser must have no connections to the seller. Second, the seller must not benefit from the divestments or re-acquire any market influence over the assets. Third, the divestment must not raise any competition concerns (which rules out any Sony involvement in bids). Any breach of these conditions or other irregularity, or any result which protects the position of Sony or Universal, whether co-ordinated or otherwise, is forbidden and would be blocked by the EC.
Helen Smith, Executive Chair of Impala said: “Our position from the start has been that music must not be allowed to become a “two horse race” and making sure the independents are able to compete effectively is crucial. All interested companies should be treated equally as bidders for any assets to be sold off. Properly strengthening the independents should be part of the outcome. The divestment processes must not be conducted in a way that simply comforts the market leaders’ view of how competition should, or should not, develop.”
IMPALA was established in April 2000 to represent European independent music companies. One of IMPALA’s missions is to keep the music market as open and competitive as possible. IMPALA has an impressive record on competition cases in the music sector. The first EMI/Warner merger was withdrawn in 2001 following objections from the EU after IMPALA intervened, in its first year of existence. It also won a landmark judgment in 2006 in the Sony/BMG case, and when Sony acquired 30% of EMI publishing in 2012, it was at the cost of significant divestments. The biggest set of remedies proportionately ever in a merger case was secured later that year, when UMG was forced to sell two thirds of EMI records and had to accept ten years of scrutiny over the terms of its digital deals. When WMG bought Parlophone in 2013, IMPALA secured a hefty divestments package for its members. On top of mergers, IMPALA has also been involved in other anti-trust cases involving the music sector, such as the abuse complaint against YouTube in 2014 and the call for regulating unfair business practices by large online players. IMPALA has also submitted observations on Apple’s bid to acquire Shazam. See the organisation’s other key achievements in IMPALA’s milestones.
IMPALA – Independent Music Companies Association
Coudenberg 70, 1000, Brussels, BELGIUM
+32 2 503 31 38