The King of Pop was no "Fool on the Hill" when he invested in the music publishing business. Sony/ATV Music Publishing, jointly owned by the estate of singer Michael Jackson and Sony Corporation of America, is one of the world's top publishing firms with rights to more than 750,000 songs, including some 250 recordings from the Beatles. Sony/ATV licenses its songs for use in movies, TV, and advertising, and collects royalties for its songwriters. Jackson avoided having to sell his half to pay off debts when Sony loaned him money in 2006. The pop star died in 2009 at the age of 50. In 2012 the Sony/ATV catalog expanded by about 1.3 million songs through the addition of EMI Music Publishing to its holdings.
A consortium of investors led by Sony acquired EMI Music Publishing from EMI Group in 2012 for a whopping $2.2 billion. While the deal with Jackson required EMI Publishing remain a separate company, Sony is administering the EMI catalog through Sony/ATV. In addition to Sony and the Jackson estate, investors include Mubadala of Abu Dhabi, Jynwel Capital of Hong Kong, Blackstone's GSO Capital Partners, and Hollywood mogul David Geffen.
Before his death, the debt-ridden Jackson had borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars against the company in order to support his lavish lifestyle. Jackson sold a 50% stake in the business to Sony for $150 million in 1995 amid personal financial trouble. After Jackson's death, sales of his music skyrocketed. Sony Music in 2010 signed a deal with his estate worth $250 million for the release of 10 albums. The albums include unreleased songs and new packages of older ones.
The company is also focused on its other valuable asset, its collection of Beatles songs. Sony/ATV had historically resisted licensing Beatles recordings for commercial use, but in 2008 it shifted its policy to begin licensing Beatles songs for things that hadn't been licensed in the past -- under certain circumstances.
Jackson acquired the Beatles catalog in 1985 when he bought ATV Music for about $47 million from Australian tycoon Robert Holmes à Court (much to the chagrin of friend and former Beatle Paul McCartney). ATV Music was once the publishing arm of Lord Lew Grade's UK media empire, Associated Television (ATV). It had acquired Northern Songs (the Beatles' publishing business) in 1969. – less