As buyers circle - amid reports that current owner Terra Firma is preparing to relinquish control of the beleaguered major to Citigroup Bank - BMG CEO Hartwig Masuch has confirmed his company's interest in EMI's back catalogue, rather than its publishing division.
In an exclusive interview with Music Week, Masuch states: "Integrating EMI's publishing would be tough, but if you look at the recorded side, it is a different story. We are increasingly moving into representing master catalogues and EMI is the iconic catalogue. We are more confident these days; it is no secret we are more interested in rights to masters than publishing."
BMG may also want to make a move on EMI sooner rather than later because it is understood that David Bowie's catalogue is up for renewal at the major next year with informed sources suggesting the singer/songwriter might want to follow acts such as Queen, The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney out of the door.
The source adds much of Bowie's catalogue is "crying out" for the repackaging treatment and very little has been done with the works of other long-term EMI stars such as Kate Bush. "I'm not sure a lot of artists have confidence in EMI handling their catalogue," says the source.
Masuch, who oversaw the recent £107m acquisition of Chrysalis Group and has made no bones about his ambitions to build an empire in the UK, unveiled his plans amid reports that Terra Firma's controversial chairman Guy Hands is relenting to pressure from investors to hand control of EMI to Citigroup in return for the bank wiping clean its £2.5bn debt slate.
If this happened, analysts believe the most likely scenario is Citigroup breaking up EMI and selling it in the new year. Until Masuch declared BMG's hand, it was expected that EMI's most likely buyer would be a partnership of private-equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (which also owns BMG Rights Management in partnership with Bertelsmann) and long-time EMI suitor Warner - with the spoils split; publishing going to KKR and the recording interests merged with Warner.
Alongside its blue-chip catalogue, EMI's strong performance in 2010 has made it an increasingly attractive proposition for bidders. So far this quarter it has increased year-on-year artist albums market share in the UK from 12.0% to 14.2% on the back of such solid albums as Katy Perry's Teenage Dream and Robbie Williams' greatest hits, which have both sold 400,000-plus copies in the UK. Add to those Tinie Tempah's Disc-Overy, which is one of the biggest-selling debut albums of 2010 with 300,000-plus sales and Eliza Doolitle's eponymous debut (250,000).
With such US successes as Katy Perry and Lady Antebellum, EMI's year has been topped off with the 2m iTunes/Beatles downloads sold in the first week which have reinvigorated sales of such catalogue as the remastered Red and Blue.