Universal Music Group targets ‘name and likeness’ acquisitions in partnership with Authentic Brands Group

So-called ‘name and likeness’ rights have been simmering away as an interesting business within the music industry for some time.

In short, the acquirers of said rights can freely make use of an artist’s brand and, erm, likeness, across various products and media, including film and TV.

Obviously enough, when said acquirers also own the music rights to an artist’s catalog, controlling ‘name and likeness’ becomes all the more powerful.

For example: one pioneer in the ‘name and likeness’ acquisitions business is Primary Wave, which has relied on its ownership / part-ownership of such assets to co-create the highly anticipated Whitney Houston biopic, I Wanna Dance With Somebody.

Primary Wave has also acquired / partially acquired ‘name and likeness’ rights to a bunch of other legends, from Luther Vandross to Prince, Stevie Nicks and many more.

Others who have made recent acquisitions in this world include Irving Azoff‘s Iconic Artists Group (Beach Boys, Linda Ronstadt) and BMG (Tina Turner).

The major record companies obviously cannot simply stand by and watch all of this activity play out without taking action.

And today (November 16) the biggest major of them all has made its own statement announcement in the ‘name and likeness’ space.

Universal Music Group has confirmed it is launching a strategic alliance with Authentic Brands Group (ABG) to acquire and actively manage artist brands.

ABG is a global brand owner whose portfolio already includes iconic celebrity brands such as Marilyn Monroe, Muhammad Ali, and Elvis Presley.

According to a press release, ABG uses these rights to create “memorable brand experiences that come to life across key consumer touchpoints, platforms and emerging media”.

UMG and ABG say they will now jointly “combine [our] respective leadership in artist brand management to expand the legacies and cultural impact of artists around the world”.

Confirmed the press announcement: “Working with artists, their representatives and legal heirs, [UMG and ABG] will strategically market and position artists across a wide range of consumer touchpoints leveraging their name and likeness to drive opportunities in merchandise, memorabilia, licensing, brand experiences and media and entertainment, among many others.”

Sir Lucian Grainge, Chairman and CEO, Universal Music Group said, “UMG and ABG have strong track records as powerful stewards of artist and celebrity brands. Through this initiative, we will invest in name and likeness rights to create unique opportunities for artists with the goal of greatly expanding their cultural and commercial impact.”

Jamie Salter, Founder, Chairman and CEO, ABG said, “We are honored to partner with the enormously talented team at UMG for this groundbreaking initiative. Together, UMG and ABG will work strategically to preserve the legacies of history’s greatest artists.”

This is an interesting move from Universal Music Group, which was notably aggressive in the music rights acquisitions business in 2020.

According to company filings, UMG spent over $1.71 billion (€1.52 billion) last year on a combination of catalog acquisitions and “advances to artists net of recoupment”.

That figure was more than three times the equivalent spending sum that UMG splashed in 2019.

Universal’s 2020 acquisitions, of course, included the song catalog of Bob Dylan, for which UMG is believed to have paid upwards of $350 million.

In September this year, UMG floated on the Amsterdam Euronext stock exchange.

At the time of writing, UMG carries a €26.37 share price, equating to a €47.81 billion ($54.3bn) company market cap valuation.Music Business Worldwide