Universal Music Keeps Investing; Uber Stake Surfaces

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Major labels are continuing to invest in emerging digital companies, part of a broader diversification strategy.

Over the weekend, sources pointed Digital Music News to a Universal Music Group stake in Uber (uber.com), a startup that allows users to instantly create multimedia websites and blogs.

The investment was confirmed Tuesday by a Universal Music Group representative, though specific investment figures were not disclosed.  Uber did not respond to an inquiry, and sources were unable to identify the date of the initial investment.

The destination is tailored towards bloggers, musicians, photographers, and a host of other groups.  Uber is wooing the creative crowd with a range of multimedia tools, including those tied to audio and video.  Accounts are free, though various viewable Uber pages did not carry advertising.  Social networking aspects, including friends lists, are also part of the architecture.

Universal Music is now playing venture capitalist, a role that carries tried-and-true rules.  Among them is that the executives are more important than the idea, especially in a climate that frequently forces business model overhauls.

On that yardstick, Uber carries a strong leadership duo.  The initiative is being led by Scott Sassa, formerly president of NBC Entertainment, chief executive of Marvel Entertainment and president of Turner Entertainment Group.  Also spearheading the effort is Glenn Kaino, an artist and interactive designer whose work has been featured at the Warhol Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego.

The Uber investment follows news of a Universal stake in Buzznet, the music-focused social network that recently purchased blogs Stereogum and Idolator.  Specific percentages and valuations have not been disclosed on either bet, though at least one executive pointed to modest stakes.  That suggests a more experimental approach, one that may also include a content distribution and promotion strategy.

But Universal Music Group is not the only major investing in startups.  Just recently, Warner Music Group invested $20 million in Lala (lala.com), a company that offers ubiquitous access to music collections and is launching a novel, per-stream purchasing proposition.