Sony may raise stake in BMG

Stringer negotiating with co-owner Bertelsmann

TOKYO — Sony chairman-CEO Howard Stringer is negotiating with co-owner Bertelsmann to raise Sony’s stake in Sony BMG Music Entertainment, Stringer told a media roundtable in Tokyo on Monday.

Bertelsmann has yet to comment on a sale of its 50% stake in the joint venture, which it set up with Sony in 2004.

But Stringer said the future ownership of Sony BMG would be determined by how the German company decides to repay its debt.

Bertelsmann is selling its music publishing arm, BMG Music Publishing, to help finance a deal reached last month to buy back a 25% stake in itself from Groupe Bruxelles Lambert for e4.5 billion ($5.63 billion).

Industry execs expect BMG Music Publishing to fetch at least $1.9 billion.

“I don’t have all the cards. At the moment, the decision by Bertelsmann as to how they pay back that debt is up to them,” Stringer said. “And while we are in close negotiations and obviously there are some opportunities for us, in the end, they have to decide how they want to go forward.”

In a wide-ranging press session, Stringer said he expected Sony Pictures to achieve record sales, including $1.5 billion at the U.S. box office this year, primarily thanks to “The Da Vinci Code.”

Stringer also said he is confident the Sony-developed Blu-ray will prevail in its format war with Toshiba’s HD-DVD, mentioning Hollywood’s growing understanding of its advantages.

Sony prexy Ryoji Chubachi, who was also at the conference, said that the company’s success with its new products, including LCD televisions, means that the comeback of the Sony brand was “gathering momentum.”

(Wire services contributed to this report.)

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