Leaked e-Mails Reveal Sony Wanted to Unload Music Publishing, Beatles and All

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Sony Corp. was considering the sale of its music-publishing business, including a partnership with Michael Jackson’s estate that owns the Beatles catalog, as recently as last month, e-mails released by hackers show, Bloomberg said.

The “top secret” plan was being handled in the U.S. by Sony Entertainment Chief Executive Officer Michael Lynton, Sony Corp. of America President Nicole Seligman and their U.S. Chief Financial Officer Steve Kober, according to a Nov. 21 e-mail from Kober. The company had concluded the business had few growth prospects.

Top management at Tokyo-based Sony was concerned about the complex ownership and governance of the business, whose owners also include billionaire David Geffen and Abu Dhabi investors. Details of the sale plan, including possible terms or suitors, couldn’t be determined. The documents were released as part of the cyberattack on Sony over the movie “The Interview, ” the report said.

Katie Schroeder, a spokeswoman for Sony at Rubenstein Communications, declined to comment.

Shares of Sony surged 4 percent to 2, 568.5 yen in Tokyo, extending this year’s gain to 41 percent.

Publishing accounts for 14 percent of Sony’s music revenue, the main part being recorded music. Sony Corp.’s Chief Financial Officer Kenichiro Yoshida raised questions about the future of music publishing in an Oct. 3 e-mail to his boss, CEO Kazuo Hirai, and Lynton, in a prelude to a meeting of the three, according to messages released by the hackers, Bloomberg said.

“I’d like to hear your thoughts on the Music Publishing business, which has a rather complex capital and governance structure and is impacted by the market shift to streaming, ” Yoshida wrote in the message.

Sony’s deliberations on the publishing business were included in a planning document sent to at least half a dozen Sony executives, according to the Nov. 21 e-mail. That included a presentation that outlined they were considering the sale, the report said.

“We are very surprised that the attached listing includes the comment about the sale of Sony/ATV, ” Kober wrote. “As you know quite well, this is a top-secret project that is being handled by me working directly with Michael and Nicole.”

The publishing division includes Sony/ATV Music Publishing and EMI Music Publishing.

Sony/ATV was established in 1995 as a joint venture between Sony and Jackson, who had acquired ATV 10 years earlier. Former Beatle Paul McCartney had also tried to purchase the catalog, Bloomberg said.

The e-mails were released as part of a devastating hack on Sony that the FBI said was committed by North Korea over the Hollywood studio’s plan to release the satirical movie “The Interview, ” about an assassination plot against the nation’s leader,  Kim Jong Un.

 

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