Steve Cooper: Warner Music is changing into much less financially depending on celebrity artists – and desires to see ‘common’ streaming value rises
D’ one of the best time to interview a C-suite govt at an enormous music firm? After they’ve already introduced they’re leaving.
That manner, they could be a little much less tight-lipped. Rather less anxious about holding the peace. A bit extra ‘mic drop’.
That definitely utilized to Warner Music Group CEO, Steve Cooper, talking on the Goldman Sachs Communacopia + Know-how Convention in San Francisco on Monday (September 12).
Cooper, after all, confirmed earlier this year that he’s to exit Warner in both 2022 or 2023, and is at the moment working the key because it searches for his successor.
The exec was sometimes thought of in his Q&A session with Goldman – however he additionally didn’t miss the chance to sort out quite a few trade speaking factors head-on and with stunning candor.
‘We’ve lowered our dependency on superstars’
Maybe the music trade’s most head-turning quote of summer time 2022 got here from BMG‘s CEO, Hartwig Masuch, commenting on his agency’s H1 2021 monetary outcomes.
“The extraordinary factor about our first half result’s that we grew income 25% with just about no hits,” said the German exec in August.
Masuch’s “no hits” remark comes amid an ever-more fragmenting music trade panorama the place new-release chart smashes – as a lot as each firm wishes and advantages from them – are claiming a lowering share of the worldwide market.
Take a look at the info: In keeping with MBW’s calculations of Luminate / MRC Data figures, the High 10 audio streaming tracks within the US in H1 2022 had been cumulatively performed over 1 billion instances lower than they had been in H1 2019 (2.74bn vs. 3.81bn)*.
In the meantime, celebrity artists are additionally inevitably taking over much less market share, because of the dilution impact of streaming’s international subscriber progress, plus the huge quantity of tracks launched every day.
Clearly sufficient, this altering image impacts the A&R and advertising technique of the key music corporations – specifically, how a lot funds allocation they focus on established ‘celebrity’ artists versus spreading that funds amongst a wider pool of performers.
Talking at Communacopia on Monday, Cooper urged that Warner Music Group is now leaning in direction of the latter of those two choices, investing an “huge quantity of A&R assets” throughout a much bigger variety of artists than it as soon as did – together with superstars and non-superstars.
This, he mentioned, constitutes a “portfolio” technique that on common leads to “mid to excessive teen [percentage] returns” for WMG.
Stated Cooper: “In working our portfolio, what we’ve executed during the last variety of years is scale back our [financial] dependency on superstars. [And] decreasing that dependency has allowed us to proceed to strengthen our strategy to A&R, which is long-term artist improvement.”
He added: “We attempt to discover artists originally of their profession, in order that we are able to construct their profession with them, however [via] a set of economics that we consider are cheap and rational, versus economics that we frequently observe in different offers that frankly we don’t perceive.”
“What we’ve executed during the last variety of years is scale back our dependency on superstars. [And] decreasing that dependency has allowed us to proceed to strengthen our strategy to A&R, which is long-term artist improvement.”
Cooper went on to reference Taylor Swift’s licensing and distribution cope with Universal Music Group / Republic Records, signed in 2018, underneath which Swift owns the recording copyrights to albums similar to Lover, Evermore, Folklore, and the ‘Taylor’s Model’ re-records of her earlier LPs.
Stated Cooper: “I don’t see [Warner’s] A&R [spend] rising explosively over the following few years. I don’t find out about our rivals however we attempt to be very, very considerate and really centered and we don’t chase the warmth.
“By means of instance, when Taylor Swift moved from Big Machine to Common [in 2018], she received a monster verify and he or she received a really, very skinny distribution cost. We don’t do these offers; there’s not, from our perspective, the correct facet of economics. We don’t chase huge names to get a bit of little bit of income and never make any cash.”
(Though it’s recognized that Swift did certainly get a extremely favorable margin in her 2018 digital distribution cope with Republic/UMG within the US, it’s anticipated that Common’s margin in that deal will increase with bodily distribution, particularly in ex-US territories. Swift has additionally signed international publishing and merch offers with Common, that means UMG is taking a share of a extra holistic enterprise with the artist than simply data.)
At Communacopia, Steve Cooper additionally tackled the concept that document firm offers with artists – particularly ‘scorching’ rising acts – are getting costlier.
Relating the query of whether or not the financial value of artist offers is usually rising for labels, he mentioned: “The reply is oftentimes sure. However [those deals] have gotten costlier as a result of we’re producing extra income. [Therefore] clearly we’re rising our backside line, and our artists take part in that progress.
“As artists develop into extra profitable and are extra essential in driving progress with us, will we reevaluate their contracts and modify? Completely.”
Once more, it’s value having a look on the numbers right here.
In keeping with Warner Music Group filings, WMG spent $326 million on recorded music A&R (artist and repertoire) prices within the second calendar quarter (fiscal Q3) of 2022. That was equal to 27% of WMG’s recorded music income within the quarter.
In case you head again three years, pre-pandemic, to calendar Q2 2019, Warner spent $282 million on recorded music A&R (artist and repertoire prices).
That was equal to a considerably increased share (31%) of whole recorded music income. That 31% determine additionally carried for calendar Q2 in 2018.
This matches with Cooper’s declare that Warner is certainly spending considerably more cash on offers than it did in earlier years ($326m in calendar Q2 2022 vs. $282m in calendar Q2 2019).
However it additionally tells us that Warner is managing to scale back its A&R spend on recording artists as a share of its total revenues.
‘The DSPs will finally see the necessity to elevate costs’
Steve Cooper didn’t simply speak about A&R spending at Communicopia. One different huge subject of debate was the pricing of music streaming providers.
Some within the music trade – Daniel Ek amongst them – argue that by not considerably elevating the everyday particular person $9.99 / £9.99 / €9.99 month-to-month streaming subscription value, the music trade has insulated itself from the type of subscription cancellations now hitting Netflix in a macro-economic downturn.
Others (together with Common Music Group investor Pershing Square) argue there may be nonetheless headroom to lift streaming costs, with out having a detrimental impact on subscriber churn.
Cooper’s view very a lot matches with the latter class – certainly, he desires to see “common” value will increase rolling out at providers like Spotify.
At Communicopia, Cooper famous that ad-supported streaming platform payouts had seen an “affect from macro-economic influences” already in 2022, however famous that he was extra bullish on subscription, a enterprise he referred to as “very sticky”.
“the worth proposition [in music streaming] is unbelievable. That leads us to conclude that – notably with the stickiness and virtually non-existent churn – providers can simply elevate the month-to-month subscription by a fraction they usually can do it on a regularized foundation.”
Added Cooper: “[One] of the issues that we’re starting to see and hope to see on a regularized foundation is pricing will increase, along with simply the variety of individuals that can nonetheless be signing up for subscriptions [due to] additional penetration of smartphones.”
Cooper predicted that between “regular progress” in streaming subscriber uptake, plus value will increase, the chance of the document trade sustaining double-digit YoY income progress in subscription streaming is “extremely probably”.
He continued: “Whenever you have a look at the worth proposition in music versus video, [it’s] unbelievable. That leads us to conclude that – notably with the stickiness and virtually non-existent churn – [music streaming] providers can simply elevate their month-to-month subscription by a fraction they usually can do it on a regularized foundation.
“We’re hopeful that given historic, present, and what I’m positive might be future discussions, the [music] DSPs will finally see the necessity to elevate costs, elevate them often, and have a extra rational relationship between the value and the worth that’s being delivered.”
He added: “After I have a look at the DSP fashions, I might conclude, fingers crossed, that these will increase will come sooner versus later.”
‘We lean in direction of the buyout mannequin’
One other controversial subject in B2B music trade circles this yr has been the key document corporations’ offers with the likes of TikTok and Meta.
Lately, these offers have been characterized as “buy-outs”, as a result of they usually see a service write a flat-fee verify to a rightsholder for a blanket license to make use of their music for 2 or extra years.
Some within the trade have referred to as for the majors to unite of their insistence that these “buy-out” offers transfer extra in direction of the type of revenue-share deal they’ve with YouTube, the place the Alphabet firm pays music rightsholders a share of each greenback generated by advertisements on their content material.
Meta moved nearer to this revenue-share mannequin earlier this yr, announcing deals with a number of music corporations – together with Common Music Group and Warner Music Group – that can see a sure share of promoting revenues shared with music rightsholders for sure varieties of UGC video on Facebook.
Steve Cooper stopped quick at naming TikTok particularly however did focus on the professionals and cons of those “buy-out” offers.
He mentioned at Communicopia that on this planet of “Net 2.0” Warner primarily indicators two varieties of licensing offers: “regular subscription” with the likes of Spotify, Apple and YouTube, plus “what are primarily buy-outs, extra intently related to rising fashions on social platforms”.
“I feel we’ve received a pair extra turns on the buy-out [deals] earlier than we begin see to social, health and different socially-oriented platforms [build] sufficient of a historical past and have executed [enough] experimenting to [switch to a revenue-share licensing model].
Cooper then famous that WMG tends to “lean in direction of the buy-out mannequin” when it isn’t “positive concerning the breadth and depth of how music might be adopted [on a service], and we’re undecided concerning the progress trajectory”.
In different phrases, it’s higher to financial institution some assured cash up entrance, than strike a revenue-share deal and watch a digital startup implode.
(In the case of TikTok, critics of the “buy-out” construction would level out that the Bytedance platform generated $4 billion final yr and is projected to generate $12 billion this yr, and that it has been downloaded over 2.6 billion times globally. That’s some “progress trajectory”.)
Cooper added that, as rising platforms mature previous a sure level, “we and [the platform] will collectively shift from a buy-out to a use-case mannequin, the place we take part extra immediately within the progress of music on these rising platforms”.
When requested to foretell when Warner would possibly transfer from a buy-out mannequin to a revenue-share mannequin with sure key platforms, Cooper answered: “I feel we’ve received a pair extra turns on the buy-outs earlier than we see the social, health, and different socially-oriented platforms [build] sufficient of a historical past and have executed [enough] experimenting to essentially make that flip.”
Cooper instructed the viewers that inside these buy-out offers, WMG will sometimes signal “a two-year contract” after which ups its value (“a step perform”) at every renegotiation.Music Enterprise Worldwide