Haim Saban has a well-trained antennae for making big money by spotting big opportunities in media.
The Los Angeles-based mogul created kids’ TV phenomenon Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers in the early nineties. The Power Rangers’ global success then evolved into Fox Family Channel, a large-scale JV between Saban and News Corp, which was itself sold to Walt Disney Co. for $5.3 billion in 2001.
Saban Entertainment then bought back the Power Rangers franchise via a $43m transaction in 2010 – before selling it again to toy giant Hasbro last year in a $522m deal.
Saban (pictured), who remains Chairman of Latin broadcast giant Univision today, has a personal net worth of around $3bn and is a staple fixture on Forbes’ annual list of the richest people in the United States.
His career began, however, with music – as a bass player in 1960s band The Lions Of Judah. And now, with $500m in his hand and a booming streaming music economy in front of him, he’s getting back to his roots.
Last month Saban – who today runs investment house Saban Capital Group – revealed that he plans to pump half a billion dollars into a new music venture called Saban Music Group (SMG).
L.A-based SMG is described as “a global entertainment company” that will focus on signing and breaking new acts in addition to the acquisition of recording, publishing and management assets.
Saban has tapped widely respected music executive and Latin music expert Gustavo Lopez to lead SMG as CEO.
Saban tells MBW: “Gus’s strong experience and ability to be at the forefront of genre discovery and development adds instant value to SMG. He pioneered reggaeton in its early days and it continues to be a movement that the world has embraced.”
Lopez left Universal Music after 21 years to launch his own services company Talento Uno in Los Angeles in 2017, having served as GM/EVP for Universal Music Latin Entertainment prior to exiting the major.
The exec made a lasting impact on UMG’s Latin music output during his career there. He launched Latin-urban label Machete Music and ran UMLE’s regional Mexican labels, Fonovisa and Disa.
He also played a key role in the launch of L Festival – Universal’s successful Latin-themed music event based in Los Angeles.
SMG has acquired Talento Uno’s record label, management and publishing assets as part of Lopez joining as CEO.
“Who wouldn’t want to work with the resources of a major and the focus of a boutique label?”
Gus Lopez, Saban Music Group
“Who wouldn’t want to work with the resources of a major and the focus of a boutique label,” asks Lopez when quizzed as to why artists would want to work with SMG. “We simply cannot wait to shock people with music from where they least expected us to come from.”
Lopez adds that “SMG is an entertainment company with an international approach”.
SMG’s early signings include Israeli duo, Static and Ben El, who have a combined 5 million followers on social media, in addition to France-born Marie Monti, a singer/songwriter who performs in both English and Spanish.
SMG is also managing Colombian star Reykon, as well as developing YouTube sensation Daniel el Travieso, and female entertainer/singer Chesca whom Lopez describes as “the perfect mix between JLo and Janet”.
To date, Haim Saban’s career in entertainment spans over four decades, taking in artist management, production and concert promotion.
“I’m proud to say that I built one of Israel’s top tour promotion companies, but it was a low-margin and relatively risky business,” he recalls.
“I [then] decided to move to France, where I established an independent record company that sold more than 18 million records in the ’70s. In the ’80s, I transitioned to LA to be in the entertainment capital of the world, and the rest is history.”
Pop fact: Saban also composed the theme tune to 1995’s Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie.
“It’s no secret that the music business and its monetization has made a great comeback,” Saban tells MBW, commenting on his decision to launch Saban Music Group and return to the music business.
“It’s the right time for us because music content monetization is flourishing worldwide.”
Here, Saban tells MBW about his early days in the music business and his ambitions for the newly-launched, $500m-backed Saban Music Group…
You started out in the music industry as a musician yourself. What were some of the early lessons you learnt about the music industry when you were playing shows and dealing with labels etc?
I started as a bass player in Israel, and soon realized that I was better at business than at playing bass. I wanted the best for our band, and became the band’s manager where I could add much more value. That’s where my passion came from.
The $500m investment, combined with both Gus Lopez’ and your experience in the entertainment industry, gives SMG a competitive edge. Is the long-term goal to compete with the majors?
The key to success in today’s fast-moving and ever-evolving content world requires a company with the agility and flexibility of an independent and the resources of a major.
“The key to success in today’s fast-moving and ever-evolving content world requires a company with the agility and flexibility of an independent and the resources of a major.”
SMG will be at the forefront of that model.
What will differentiate SMG from other companies? for example, why would artists/executives want to work with SMG over another record label?
On the artist front, SMG will be focused on a lean roster to which we will dedicate significant resources. In our model, our artists will be supported, nurtured and marketed to provide the fastest road to success. Our model will allow executives to be laser focused on their priorities.
What areas of the music business are you most interested in, or see as having the biggest potential for growth?
The discovery of artists, regardless of origin, with the ability to create worldwide hits while nurturing talent.
What music business companies do you think are doing a really good job at the moment? Who is setting an example for the rest of the industry?
Any company that provides the transformation from physical to digital has done a great job. At SMG, we applaud those efforts and want to grow our audience accordingly.
Clearly what Sir Lucian [Grainge] has built at Universal Music Group is nothing short of remarkable, and ground-breaking.
What kind of music/artists would you like SMG to work with?
SMG is focused on bands, pop and reggaeton, regardless of language, with the understanding that the music must have the ability of reaching worldwide masses.
How much of SMG’s resources will be allocated to the acquisition of recording, publishing and management entities?
We will look at all opportunities. When we see value, we will allocate whatever resources are necessary to make it a part of the SMG family.
What are you hoping for SMG to achieve within the first couple of years, and also long term?
Our focus in the first few years is to break our outstanding slate of artists.
Long term we want to be considered a reputable, boutique record and publishing company that nurtures talent, singers, writers, and producers for a very long time.Music Business Worldwide