Citi Switches Up EMI Sale Strategy

(Reuters) – EMI Group Ltd, the home of Coldplay and Katy Perry, looks increasingly likely to be sold off as two separate businesses — recorded music and song publishing — after final bids came in last week, according to several people familiar with the matter.

The British music company is reviewing competing offers for EMI Publishing from BMG Music, a joint venture between Bertelsmann and private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, and Sony/ATV — a joint venture between Sony Corp and the estate of Michael Jackson, these people said.

BMG-KKR and Sony have submitted the highest offers for EMI’s publishing business, the people said. One of them added that the two bids came in close to each other.

Vivendi SA’s Universal Music Group and Len Blavatnik’s Warner Music Group are vying for the recorded music side of EMI, people familiar with the matter said.

U.S. bank Citigroup, which took control of EMI in February, is expected to pick winning bidders for the businesses by the end of next week, the people said.

While Warner Music has also been interested in buying all of EMI, significant anti-trust hurdles on the publishing segment, as well as challenges in lining up financing in a volatile market, makes such a deal unlikely, the people said.

Moreover, Blavatnik, whose Access Industries bought Warner Music in May for $3.3 billion, has privately expressed reluctance to bid aggressively so soon after winning Warner Music, according to two of the people close to the transaction process. WMG Chairman Edgar Bronfman Jr. has long coveted EMI, and losing out on the chance to buy it once again is certain to hasten his departure from the company.

EMI Chief Executive Roger Faxon has publicly argued against splitting the business, saying that each side benefits the other. Since the former head of EMI’s publishing operation took over leadership of the entire company, he has pushed to more closely integrate both divisions, making it potentially more difficult to split the company.

But the chances of selling EMI as a whole were hurt by the tightening of credit markets in recent weeks, which have prompted banks to stiffen lending terms, thereby making deals more expensive, the people familiar with the matter said.

EMI, whose artist roster includes the Beastie Boys, the Beatles and Keith Urban, is seen as one of the last remaining attractive assets in the music industry. The company said in June that it was exploring strategic alternatives and has since been running an auction, which two sources said has been code named “Project Nile.”

Dividing EMI will likely generate richer bids for Citi, which is hoping to collect as much as $4 billion from the auction, said people familiar with the matter.

EMI’s publishing unit is the stronger of the two assets and has attracted bids of roughly $2 billion from Sony/ATV Music Publishing and BMG Music Rights, according to two people. Sony/ATV is run by Marty Bandier, who is best known in the music business for building EMI Publishing into the industry’s premiere publishing operation over 16 years before leaving in 2006.

BMG, which is a joint venture of German media giant Bertelsmann and private equity firm KKR, has made a string of music publishing acquisitions in the last year. The venture does not have a recorded music arm.

Universal Music Group is currently the frontrunner for EMI’s recorded music division, which includes the Capitol and Virgin labels, one of the people said.

A Citi spokeswoman declined comment. A representative for EMI was not immediately available for comment. All bidders have declined to comment throughout the sale process.

(Reporting by Nadia Damouni, Soyoung Kim and Yinka Adegoke in New York; Editing by Peter Lauria, Bernard Orr)