Even by Elvis Presley standards, Michael Jackson’s death has provided one sensation after another. Popular culture commentator Ross Stapleton examines the life (and after-life) of Michael Jackson in a five-part series. To read Part 1: where there’s a will…, click here. Today, the second instalment . :
Although his own songs resided in a separate company, Michael Jackson’s ATV Music stake, which includes The Beatles publishing along with many others acquired over the years, is a hugely valuable asset.
The 251-song “Fab Four” catalogue remains the most valuable single artist repertoire in music publishing history. Not only because of their own astronomical sales but because of how often others record or perform the works as well as income from decades of continuing radio play. It’s the gift that keeps on giving for its owner, a fact totally lost on an Australian millionaire in 1985 who, if he had had any appreciation for how CDs would grow the music industry, should have hung on to his incidental acquisition. (You can read a highly detailed account of how this crucial ATV Music deal ended up with Jackson via this 1985 Los Angeles Times article by Robert Hilburn, “The Long and Winding Road”)
Without regurgitating in any detail the corporate history of Perth entrepreneur Robert Holmes à Court who died suddenly of a heart attack himself in 1990 at just 53, it’s worth highlighting a few salient details.
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In 1985 he had acquired the UK media conglomerate Associated Communications Corporation (ACC). In his subsequent break-up of the company, he sought to sell the ATV Music publishing arm which included Northern Songs, originally formed by The Beatles manager Brian Epstein to own and control the copyright to their music.
Although Paul McCartney was also interested in the opportunity to acquiring the rights to his Beatles songs from the Lennon-McCartney partnership, he found Holmes à Court’s asking price too steep. In fact it’s popularly believed Michael Jackson stabbed his one-time Beatles mentor in the back when he eventually agreed to meet the $US47.5 million price tag. In fact McCartney, along with Yoko Ono on behalf of the Lennon estate, had been sought out as potential buyers but both baulked at the asking price. History has shown it was in fact one of the bargains of the 20th Century and Holmes à Court literally sold Jackson a gold mine that’s still pouring out rivers of gold. In a peculiar caveat to concluding the deal with Jackson, Holmes à Court made it a condition of sale that a reluctant Jackson had to fly to Perth to appear on Channel 7’s annual hospital Telethon.
This acquisition meant that as the years progressed and his own career fortunes and finances deteriorated alarmingly, he hocked The Beatles. In 1995 he entered into a deal with Sony whereby for around $US95 million they got a 50% stake in ATV Music which was then combined into a joint Sony-ATV Music publishing group. Ever since it’s been the principal asset that Jackson returned to in order to keep borrowing and helping refinance debt. In 2001, Bank of America gave him a $US200 million loan with his Sony-ATV stake as security (eventually they sold out, with the Wall Street Journal now wondering “did they make the right call by backing away from collateral like part of the Beatles catalogue?”).
Then in 2006 he again needed Sony’s help to refinance ballooning debt. Which brings us up to the present where whatever debt now exists is going to be eventually expunged without too much difficulty.
Apart from a very significant increased royalty stream flowing from the surge in his own music and other Jackson product, Sony-ATV is in for large revenue shot in the arm from a pending Beatles reissue of remastered CDs.
Until now the Beatles record company EMI, and all others slicing up Beatles royalties including Sony-ATV, have not shared in any income while withholding approval for digital downloading of either their songs or albums. But with the premium newly remastered CD product slate of 14 albums coming on to the market in a massive launch in September, the last big act to ever have all their conventional studio albums given the full-on remastering treatment since their original issue back in 1987, this will surely be the download trigger point. This will further drive up the greenback value in his Sony-ATV stake.
While his fans are left to ponder what Michael Jackson left behind in his final days that may yet dazzle them in terms of film and audio artefacts arising from his concert rehearsals, I’m tipping it will be less than overwhelming.
There’s also what Associated Press described as the completion of “an elaborate video production project just two weeks before he died. The five-week project dubbed Dome Project could be the final finished video piece overseen by the star.” Most likely this is a Jackson-approved collage of previous promos or other pre-existing footage that was to have been used as backing video projected on multiple screens or video wall backdrop as a visual element integrated into his live shows.
Next, Part 3: New studio album remains the great tease