Live Nation bidding for WMG?

Report: Concert giant seeks Warner Music's recorded music assets

Live Nation Entertainment has reportedly entered the bidding for Warner Music Group’s recorded music assets.

Live Nation, which operates some of the country’s biggest venues, and ticketing and management concerns, is interested in acquiring only WMG’s label holdings — not its publishing arm, Warner/Chappell Music, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

A WMG spokesman declined to comment. An LNE spokeswoman could not immediately be reached.

WMG’s interest in selling off some or all of its holdings, to be shopped by Goldman Sachs, became public in January. Recent speculation about potential buyers has cited interest from Sony Corp, billionaires Ron Burkle and Len Blavatnik and BMG Rights Management.

LNE’s addition of a major label to its mix would create a fully integrated entertainment company without any true precedent. The company’s executive chairman Irving Azoff has deep experience on the label side: He helmed MCA Records during the ’80s and later ran a boutique imprint, Giant Records, which was distributed by WMG.

After nearly a year of Justice Dept. probe and congressional hearings, the merger of the mammoth venue and management company Live Nation and ducat giant Ticketmaster was approved in January 2010.

It is likely that a potential LNE buy of WMG’s label side, with its welter of potential conflicts of interest, would meet with equally intense regulatory scrutiny.

LNE is coming off a deadly year in the concert business: In the wake of a dismal 2010 summer touring season rife with empty seats and canceled tours, it showed a net loss of $228.3 million, with concert revenues declining 7.2% during the calendar year.

Company is already heavily leveraged: In its most recent annual report, filed in February, it reported net long-term debt of $1.73 billion, up from $740 million the previous year.

In the same report, LNE said it had $892.7 million in cash in its coffers. Clearly, a major loan or partnership of some kind would be necessary to float a purchase of the WMG labels. When it was purchased in 2004 from Time Warner by an investment group topped by Edgar Bronfman Jr., WMG was valued at $.2.6 billion.

It is still possible that WMG may reject offers for its label side, sell off its publishing holdings and make a play to buy EMI Music from Citigroup, which took over the company from Terra Firma Equity Partners earlier this year.

WMG’s stock, which skyrocketed above $6.50 in Tuesday’s trading, closed at $6.77 (up 3.5%) in Thursday trading on the New York Stock Exchange. LNE’s shares closed flat at $10.

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