'We've hit the jackpot': How Universal turned around its market share

Lewis Capaldi

The second quarter of 2019 was another good one for the music business – but it was an even better one for Universal Music.

The overall business grew again, with total All Album AES up by a very healthy 7.8% over Q2 2018. The half-year stats show a similar 8% increase on the first half of 2018, with the growth again powered by streaming.

But the real story is the continuing resurgence of the Vivendi-owned mega-major, run by David Joseph in the UK. Despite on-going preparations for the sale of a 50% stake in the company, Universal has not been without its issues recently, such as getting caught in the middle of the Taylor Swift/Scott Borchetta/Scooter Braun row, and dealing with the fallout from the 2008 blaze that destroyed thousands of master recordings and prompted legal action from artists.

But stats from the Official Charts Company and BPI, exclusively published and analysed by Music Week, show that when it comes to market dominance, it’s Universal that is well and truly on fire.

In Music Week’s two key Q2 metrics, Universal posted a 37.8% share of All Albums AES and a 37.4% share of Artist Albums AES. In both cases, that share exceeded that of the two other majors combined.

Furthermore, it was the seventh successive year-on-year quarterly market share increase on both metrics for the company. It has grown its share of All Albums AES by a huge 4.5 percentage points since it posted 33.3% in Q1 2017, while Artist Albums AES has grown by 4.6 points over the same period.

So what’s changed? According to David Hawkes, MD of Universal UK’s Commercial Division, it’s all pretty straightforward.

“Quite simply we’ve put some great records out,” he told Music Week. “We’ve got to the point where we’re really confident, we’ve spent a few years on some of these artists, building them and it goes in cycles. We’ve just hit the jackpot this year so far, combined with some of our carry over on the phenomenal successes that were Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star Is Born, coupled with the new releases that we’ve put out.

“If you put great records out, you’ve got a good chance of building market share and that’s what Universal have done this year.”

And, indeed, unusually, Universal has done it without any of the real runaway hit albums that usually boost market share. Indeed, the major has not released the No.1 selling artist album of the year since all the way back in 2010, when Take That triumphed with Progress’ 1.841m sales (2012 champ, Emeli Sandé’s Our Version Of Events, may have ended the year within the Universal stable, but was part of EMI when released, seven months before the EMI acquisition was approved).

That seems almost unfathomable, but Hawkes puts the recent renaissance down to a much wider range of fresh hit artists.

“The lifeblood of our industry is breaking new talent,” said Hawkes. “We’ve got Lewis Capaldi out of the blocks, Billie Eilish continuing from the success of her EP with her album… For those development breakthrough artists to be No.1 and No.2 in Q2 is really positive, not just for Universal but for the industry.”

Hawkes also cited the success of Dave, with hotly-anticipated albums to come from Mabel, Sam Fender and Dermot Kennedy, as Universal establishes an impressive roster of breaking acts.

“These aren’t flashes in the pan,” he said. “We firmly believe all [of them] are going to stick around all year. That feels really positive and it’s a nice balance. We’re feeling pretty buoyant and probably better than we have for a couple of years on the new acts we’re bringing to market.

“Clearly we’ve also benefitted from the very strong film slate that included Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star Is Born, they’ve continued to perform really well and, more recently, Elton John’s Rocketman. It’s a mix of soundtracks, some heritage artists and some breakthroughs, domestic and international.”

Universal may even have a shot at breaking that eight-year losing streak for the year’s No.1 album, with recent Music Week cover star Lewis Capaldi’s Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent the biggest-selling artist album of the year to date (although it is still behind The Greatest Showman soundtrack, and a certain Ed Sheeran does release his new album this week).

However it pans out though, Hawkes is convinced Capaldi is the real deal.

“I’m very confident that there’s strength in depth on the record,” said Hawkes. “He’s got the personality to back up some really strong songs so he’s really resonating and connecting with the public across multiple international markets. He’ll be around all year.”

* To read our full, exclusive Q2 analysis, including how Sony Music and Warner Music fared, see this week’s print edition of Music Week, available now, or click here. To read our Lewis Capaldi cover story, click here. To subscribe to Music Week and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.

All market shares & data © Official Charts Company/BPI, published under licence by Music Week. Reproduction or republication elsewhere is strictly prohibited without the prior written consent of both the Official Charts Company & Music Week.

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