As Catalog Music Thrives, Universal Music Finalizes ‘Strategic Initiative’ With Brand-Management Company Authentic Brands Group

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Elvis Presley, whose celebrity brand is part of the Authentic Brands Group portfolio. Photo Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Universal Music Group (UMG) has officially finalized a “strategic initiative” with New York City-headquartered brand-development and marketing company Authentic Brands Group (ABG).

The Big Three record label and 11-year-old ABG just recently unveiled their deal, which will see the involved businesses “combine their respective leadership in artist brand management to expand the legacies and cultural impact of artists around the world.” Though the announcement message doesn’t disclose which UMG artists are currently set to have their brands marketed under the agreement, the text does indicate that the entities will work “with artists, their representatives and legal heirs.”

On the latter front, ABG’s current portfolio “includes iconic celebrity brands such as Marilyn Monroe, Muhammad Ali, and Elvis Presley,” according to the document, and a report earlier this year revealed that catalog releases (encompassing tracks that are more than 18 months old) now account for two-thirds of all music consumption in the U.S.

Moreover, Universal Music is rolling out a number of Nevermind anniversary editions, while August saw the company sign a “strategic global alliance” with Aerosmith and late 2020 brought the purchase (via UMPG) of Bob Dylan’s catalog.

Also worth noting is that ABG (a portion of which belongs to BlackRock) bought photography library Iconic Images for £20 million (currently $26.86 million) days back, per the Financial Times. Iconic’s archive features shots of David Bowie and Jimi Hendrix, to name some. Plus, UMG and ABG plan to “acquire” other artist brands yet moving forward, and ABG’s extensive holdings likewise include Aeropostale, Eddie Bauer, Sports Illustrated, and Brooks Brothers.

Back to the logistical nuances of the UMG-ABG pact, the companies intend to “strategically market and position artists across a wide range of consumer touchpoints,” the text proceeds, including by “leveraging their name and likeness to drive opportunities in merchandise, memorabilia, licensing, brand experiences and media and entertainment, among many others.”

Addressing the deal in a statement, Universal Music Group chairman and CEO Lucian Grainge – who’s reportedly set to take home north of $200 million in 2021 – said: “UMG and ABG have strong track records as powerful stewards of artist and celebrity brands. Through this initiative, we will invest in name and likeness rights to create unique opportunities for artists with the goal of greatly expanding their cultural and commercial impact.”

In a statement of his own, ABG founder, chairman, and CEO Jamie Salter emphasized that the union will focus chiefly on preserving “the legacies of history’s greatest artists” as opposed to promoting contemporary creators, notwithstanding the brand-management services that ABG provides to Shaquille O’Neal and Thalía. “We are honored to partner with the enormously talented team at UMG for this groundbreaking initiative,” said the Toronto native Salter, who previously served as CEO of Hilco Consumer Capital. “Together, UMG and ABG will work strategically to preserve the legacies of history’s greatest artists.”

At the time of this piece’s writing, Universal Music Group stock (UMG on the Euronext Amsterdam) was down roughly 2.3 percent from yesterday’s close, for a per-share price of €26.11 ($29.61 at the present exchange rate). Despite the dip, the value isn’t far from the record high of €27.96 per share that UMG cracked earlier this month.

Last week, UMG sued an investment platform called Republic over its recent expansion into music, and the major label’s 10:22PM announced Kingship, a digital band consisting of four characters from a non-fungible token (NFT) project.