Mechanical animals: Inside the MCPS revival

Mechanical animals: Inside the MCPS revival

At last week’s Music Publishers Association AGM, CEO Jane Dyball was quick to hail the performance of MCPS, as the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society distributed more than £150m for the first time in the digital age. 

The news comes soon after the MCPS settled the long-running saga of the Request For Proposals (RFP) to run its administration processes, which eventually saw PRS For Music sign a new deal.

So how does a collection society that deals with mechanical rights – a business not deemed to have the brightest of futures, due to the decline in physical music sales – come back from the brink? Music Week sat down with Dyball to find out… 

This is a proper turn around for MCPS, isn’t it?

Well, it’s about the community working together to turn it around. Not only have we taken that opportunity to get lots of experts from our community and ask them lots of questions about how things should be run and what should be expected of our partners, but we have also talked to lots of other companies who have been interested in our business and heard their perspective. The first bit of [the process] was looking at the finances of MCPS and making sure we had looked for money to distribute that hadn’t been distributed. We were looking for money everywhere that we could distribute to turn the business around and start to look at our balance sheet. The middle bit was going through this RFP process that looks at all the parts of our business; how long it should take between invoicing and processing, how long it should take between processing and distributing, what level of matching you need to achieve in order to be a good business partner… All that stuff came out of the RFP and has gone into the service level agreement with PRS in terms of monthly and quarterly commitments – these will be done in a way where they can be monitored and measured.

What happens if they fail to meet those targets?

There are various recourses according to the level and the quantity of the breach or failure. There are different mechanisms for different KPIs [key performance indicators] with greater or lesser consequences. We are setting up a specialist group of publishers to look at different areas of the business. There is a no point having a CEO look at processing, because it’s much better to have someone involved with royalties and copyright look at it. The plan has always been to get the experts into the room, whether it has been the creation of the RFP or the reporting of the service level agreement that has come out of the RFP. For example, I’d say if you wanted to build an IT network, the most important thing to check first is that it serves the needs of the customers. It’s up to us to get the customers involved in making sure that what is being created is what they want.

You mention the first and middle parts. What’s the final part of the process?

Well, commercial negotiation is my background so, in some ways, finding the money under the sofa and then the preparation of the service level agreement gets me to the bit that I needed to get to: the growth of the business.

Is that realistic? A few years ago, people would have said the MCPS was dying... 

Yes - I wouldn’t have done the job otherwise! There will be a reduction [in physical mechanical royalties], because that activity will move away. But the only licence I’ve been able to look at for MCPS since I’ve been here has been the licence for when schools make copies of CDs. It was easy to see how that was undeveloped, and what the opportunity was. In doing that, that area of licensing went from a five-figure sum to a seven-figure sum. So it is about looking for opportunities. I don’t think our market is 100% licensed. We have to make sure that it is 100% licensed, and we have to make everything customer focused, rather than expecting the customers to operate to our rules and needs. I think we can do that. There are ordinary members of the population who we need to facilitate on the path towards licensing their activities. It’s not a question of, Here’s a new type of use that nobody’s ever thought of that we can license that is suddenly going to generate £10 million. But, if you think of how many people are using music every day, that’s a transformative business model. I’m sure that each member of the public, at some point in the year, is carrying out an act of copyright that’s worth 10p. 

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