BMG CEO Hartwig Masuch Talks About Company’s Move Into Film and TV (EXCLUSIVE)

Later this month BMG’s first feature-length documentary, “Bad Reputation,” a film about Joan Jett’s life and career, will make its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January. The film is the first feature-length documentary project from the integrated record label and music-publishing company, which is making a strategic move into music-related films and TV production.

Documentaries on T. Rex — which will be accompanied by a tribute album — the influential reggae label Trojan Records, and the legendary concert promoters and agents who built the rock touring industry are slated for next year, with more projects in the works. The goal is for the new business unit to include feature-length documentaries, narrative features, concert films, scripted and unscripted series, both long and short-form.

The move has been so stealthy that the film was announced for Sundance without anyone publicly noticing that it was a BMG production, under the umbrella of the company’s audiovisual-production department, which was founded in 2014 and now numbers five people led by Los Angeles-based SVP Justus Haerder.

BMG CEO Hartwig Masuch spoke exclusively with Variety about the company’s venture into film and TV.

You’ve been working on this for three years, how did you keep it quiet?
That’s how we run things: We try to deliver a result and then announce it. There was really no agenda not to talk about it, we just weren’t aggressively communicative. It was the same thing with [recorded music], when in 2009 we did our first recording deals we didn’t make a big noise about it — we only started to make more noise when Janet Jackson’s [“Unbreakable”] hit No. 1, after we’d already released 13 albums. We understand how this market works and what the expectations are. We started audiovisuals four years ago: Our first move was when we started a production line in Germany with Arte [network], which is a bit like PBS here, producing live concerts with interviews; I think we’ve done 44 of those shows up to now.We took our time and did our research and figured out what we really want. I feel much better figuring out if we’re capable of doing something before we make a lot of noise.

Actually, 3-4 years ago we tried to make a big move to buy Eagle Rock [Entertainment, a large video-production company specializing in concert films and music docs] and at the last minute we lost out to Universal, so obviously that would have changed from day one our presence in that market. That’s another good reason to be a little more cautious about the situation! But if we were willing to spend $30 million to buy a company, an alternative agenda would be: We won’t make one big move, we’ll build our presence step by step and maybe in 5-6 years have the same scope that we would have had with Eagle Rock.

Some of the projects would seem to have a fairly limited audience — can something like the Trojan Records documentary be profitable?
We have a very intense look at the cost structure — we’re not spending just to win whatever prize there is, but make it work. We own the Trojan catalog, but if we do single-artist projects we do a joint venture so they have an interest to make this financially attractive — not by paying a big advance but by sharing all the proceeds and deciding the strategic framework. There are certain projects we look from a total portfolio perspective – we could spend a lot of money on TV advertising for a best-of [compilation] or we could go the other way and create a documentary to get the same amount of airtime but in a much more credible way.

Would you do video deals with artists whose rights you don’t own?
Yes, although the economics of doing something with someone on another label would have to be clearly convincing to us from a return perspective. For instance, we don’t publish or own T. Rex or [T. Rex leader] Marc Bolan’s recordings, but we think it’s an attractive property to have and to generate returns. And we have the tribute album with fantastic artists on it, and in this time of multimedia and streaming we’ll do pretty well.

How many potential outlets do some of these projects have?  Spotify and Apple Music have their own video content you’d have to compete with.
We talk to them — the door is open to partner with them on certain things. But there are a lot of potential outlets, and not only here — there’s China, Asia, hotels and digital services, in-flight entertainment, packaging it [in a boxed set] if we control [the music rights]. One of the key success factors will be the distribution system, we can tap into [Bertelsmann-owned] Fremantle’s system and talk with them about global sales and whether we can piggyback on their presence in sales conferences, that’s a huge advantage in this kind of situation. And we also can tap into other related companies, for instance BMG does books about artists — we can go down to the 14th floor to [Bertelsmann-owned] Random House, the biggest book publisher in the world. There are multiple ways to monetize it.

Are you thinking about doing music biopics?
We have a lot of things on the table, we have to figure out what our capacity is.

How about non-music projects?
No, that would be Fremantle — we have a mission statement to look at whatever the context is with music. I can’t just go out and do a Ken Follet or Dan Brown project, that would not be appreciated! (laughs)

Popular on Variety

More Music

  • Exclusive Preview: The Rolling Stones' 50th

    Exclusive Preview: The Rolling Stones' 50th Anniversary Edition of ‘Let It Bleed’

    A debate over which Rolling Stones album is the best can have felonious results, but this near-lifelong fan will make the case for 1969’s “Let It Bleed” — the second in the group’s grand-slam of consecutive classics that began in 1968 with “Beggars Banquet” and concluded four years later with “Exile on Main Street.” Unlike [...]

  • Halsey, Ashley Nicolette Frangipane. Singer Halsey

    Emmys: Halsey to Sing In Memoriam Tribute at Sunday's Ceremony

    Pop star Halsey has been tapped to perform during the Emmy Awards on Sunday, while comedians Adam Devine and Thomas Lennon will also contribute to the telecast. With no Emmy host this year, producers Don Mischer Prods. and Done+Dusted are relying more on presenters and other contributors to keep the show moving, Halsey, whose hits [...]

  • Bebe Rexha

    Bebe Rexha Unveils New Single from 'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil'

    Elton John did it. Christina Aguilera did it. Beyoncé did it. And now Bebe Rexha did it, becoming the latest pop singer to join a Disney soundtrack. Rexha dropped the track “You Can’t Stop The Girl,” which will be featured in the upcoming Disney sequel “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.” The song, which she co-wrote, follows [...]

  • Leonard Cohen Dead

    Leonard Cohen Gets One Last Album In: Posthumously Completed Set Due This Fall

    When Leonard Cohen died shortly after releasing “You Want It Darker.” there was no indication that that was not his final album. But now his son, Adam Cohen, has put together a collection that’s being described as the late singer/songwriter’s real swan song, based on “musical sketches” from his final days that were fleshed out [...]

  • This photo provided by the California

    Josh Turner Tour Bus Crash Kills Sound Engineer, Leaves 7 from Crew Hospitalized

    A bus carrying crew members for country singer Josh Turner’s tour went off an embankment after leaving a show in Paso Robles, California, killing sound engineer David Turner and leaving seven others hospitalized. Turner and his band were on a separate bus following the crew bus and reportedly stopped to assist after the deadly accident [...]


    Billie Eilish Tells Crowd She Plans to Tour Behind... Her 2017 EP

    Okay, so it may just have been a way to get some crowd members who were dead-set on calling out requests off her back. But she seemed to mean it. At a show for SiriusXM and Pandora at L.A.’s Troubadour club Wednesday, Billie Eilish made an interesting vow to the crowd: She plans to tour [...]

  • UTA lobby in Nashville

    UTA's Nashville Office Sets 2020 for Move to Historic Downtown Library Building

    UTA has announced a forthcoming move to much bigger digs in Nashville, with plans to leave its current home at the Cummins Station complex in the first quarter of 2020 to make good on a signed lease on a major library building in the heart of downtown that’s being renovated for office use. Once construction [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content