BTS Label Owner HYBE Merges With Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Holdings for $1 Billion (EXCLUSIVE)

Deal brings Justin Bieber, Big Machine together with K-pop powerhouse

Bang-Si-Hyuk, Scooter Braun
Big Hit Entertainment; Bryce Duffy

HYBE, the company formerly known as Big Hit Entertainment, which is home to BTS, the South Korean pop group, has merged with Ithaca Holdings, the company led by SB Projects (SBP) founder Scooter Braun. In the deal, HYBE will acquire through HYBE America, its wholly owned subsidiary, a 100% stake in Ithaca Holdings and its properties, which includes SB Projects and management clients Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande and Demi Lovato, among others, as well as Big Machine Label Group.

The deal is said to be valued at more than $1 billion.

Braun will join the board of HYBE and Scott Borchetta will remain CEO of Big Machine Label Group. Artists of both companies will participate in the capital increase of HYBE to further strengthen the ties between the two companies, according to a release announcing the deal. Financial terms were not disclosed.

In aligning the two entities, the newly combined HYBE is poised to be among the biggest entertainment companies with a music focus operating on a global scale. BTS and Bieber alone bring dedicated fanbases numbering in the hundreds of millions, while Ariana Grande recently surpassed 90 billion streams consumed worldwide, the most ever by a female artist — these accolades in addition to recent Grammy wins for Dan + Shay and Bieber for the song “10,000 Hours.”  In what has been an especially busy month for SBP, today (April 2) also marks the release of Demi Lovato’s latest album, “Dancing With the Devil: The Art of Starting Over.” It arrives on the heels of a YouTube Originals docu-series.

Said HYBE chairman and CEO Bang Si-Hyuk: “The inevitable joining of HYBE and Ithaca Holdings marks the start of a new adventure no one could have possibly imagined. The two companies will work closely together leveraging our proven track records of success, know-how, and expertise to create synergy, transcend borders and break down cultural barriers. Please look forward to the endless possibilities of HYBE and Ithaca Holdings, and the new paradigm the partnership will establish in the music industry.”

Added Braun: “This will be the first time HYBE’s groundbreaking systems and curation will be integrated in the U.S. market at the onset of an artist’s career. Plus, it will help us to continue to further the careers of the artists we already work with. Global opportunities for artists become exponential with this partnership. This is an opportunity for us to make history and further innovate the music industry and revolutionize the game itself. Its implications for the business will be monumental for a long time to come. I am incredibly grateful for Chairman Bang’s friendship and his willingness to support the creative journey of an artist.”

The deal encompasses a range of services including management, label services and publishing for a combined roster that includes BTS, TXT, SEVENTEEN, among other HYBE acts, with Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, J Balvin, Demi Lovato, Thomas Rhett, Florida Georgia Line, Lady A and more artists on the SB Projects and Big Machine rosters. (In November 2020, Braun sold the master rights to Taylor Swift’s first six albums, released by Big Machine, for a deal believed to be worth north of $300 million.)

As part of the HYBE transaction, the Carlyle Group will sell off its minority stake in Ithaca Holdings. It had initially invested in the company in 2017 via its Carlyle Partners VI fund.

David Hernand and Iksoo Kim of Paul Hastings LLP advised HYBE on the transaction.

“For 15 years, I have worked alongside Scooter helping him build a best-in-class entertainment company and phenomenal team of which we are both immensely proud,” said Allison Kaye, partner at Ithaca Holdings and president of SB Projects. “We have launched amazing careers and brands and released incredible content into the world. We are ecstatic to have this new opportunity to partner with Chairman Bang and Big Hit to further the global reach of both companies and the artists with whom we have the privilege of working as we continue to grow our company and their careers across entertainment, technology, commerce and content. Thank you to Scooter, Chairman Bang and everyone involved — we are beyond grateful for the opportunity.”

In a statement to Variety, SBP general manager Jen McDaniels added: “After many years working independently, I decided to join the SB projects family, not only because of my long standing relationships with Scooter and Allison or their success but for the commitment and dedication they’ve shown to their artists. I feel so fortunate that after three years with this company, we have found a partner across the world who shares those same values. This is such a unique and fortuitous joining of forces, I really cannot express how excited I am for what the future holds.”

Big Hit’s name change to HYBE was to be addressed at a general shareholders meeting on March 30. The impetus for the change reportedly stems from the Korea Exchange-listed company’s desire to position itself as a company that has expanded beyond mere artist management to realize its ambitions of becoming a more comprehensive lifestyle platform. Korean reports stated that Big Hit planned to branch out from music production, distribution, artist management, live performance management, internet tech and e-commerce to become more involved in areas such as travel, real estate, and other types of communications.

Founded in 2005, Big Hit started as an underdog firm in Korea’s pop music world, where three major talent management firms dominated K-pop. Its status changed, however, as its boy band BTS rocketed to stardom. Big Hit continues to rely on the boy band for the majority of its revenue.

The company went public in October with a $820 million offering that was South Korea’s largest in three years. Despite the initial hype, its stock has roller-coastered dramatically since. After a surge at the trading debut, the shares sank through the last months of 2020, before staging a spectacular rally from late January 2021, reaching a new high point in mid-February of 52% above the IPO price of KRW135,000 —  a market capitalization of KRW7.29 ($6.4 billion).