Universal Music Group and its corporate parent, Vivendi, are now publicly denying rumors that Universal CEO Lucian Grainge’s job is in serious danger. In a statement issued this morning, Vivendi noted that Grainge would be staying with the company until ‘at least 2020’ and will help to lead a broader expansion towards content monetization.
“Lucian Grainge, the CEO of Universal Music Group, was extended in his position until 2020,” the statement (originally in French) reads, without offering any further detail. “UMG will accelerate the monetization of music in digital.”
It’s unclear if contracts have actually been signed, or whether the statement was merely issued to calm questions among partners and internal staff. The response comes just weeks after an exclusive report in Digital Music News pointed to extreme instability at the top of Universal Music Group, and the very serious possibility of Grainge’s dismissal within months. The move would closely follow the ouster of UMG digital chief Rob Wells, who was dismissed over concerns over unchecked free access and overly-cozy, ‘freemium-hugging’ ties with Spotify.
The DMN report on Grainge quickly garnered tens of thousands of views, and according to our same sources, stirred considerable discussion within the upper ranks of both UMG and Vivendi. That may have also included considerable response by the embattled Grainge himself, who has been lobbying intensely to convince upper-level executives that massive music devaluation is a solvable problem. “The value of music keeps crashing, [the devaluation] is not reversing at all and you have tech companies giving the middle finger,” one source close to the organization told Digital Music News.
“But Grainge is saying ‘don’t fire the general in the middle of the war’. He’s making that case, apparently with some success.”
But the devaluation problem only seems to be intensifying, with tech ‘partners’ increasingly dictating licensing terms back to massive media companies like UMG, not the other way around. That has certainly been the case with Spotify, whose CEO, Daniel Ek, has flatly refused to close an unlimited free-access window, while spending millions to successfully draw government attention towards coordinated efforts between Apple and major recording labels to force stricter pay-only structures.
Separately, YouTube remains a giant free-access cesspool for UMG, with a subscription-based solution, Music Key, now a floating mirage with an unknown release date. Elsewhere in Freetown, Universal and Sony Music Entertainment are exerting heavy pressure on SoundCloud to properly license their content, while dangling massive lawsuits.
And what about Apple Music? So far, traction seems disappointingly low after the first month, though Apple is sticking with a far smaller, three-month trial window.
More as it develops.