Helped by double-digit streaming gains, Warner Music Group set a record for quarterly revenue of $1.335 billion in its fiscal first quarter ended Dec. 31, 2020. Streaming revenue was up 17.5% for Warner’s recorded music division compared to the same period in 2020, while total revenue grew 6% (4% at constant currency).
But judging from Warner’s Feb. 1 earnings call, it’s up-and-coming platforms such as Roblox -- the popular video game with 31.1 million daily users -- that are the stars of tomorrow.
Warner was part of Roblox's $520 million investment round in January and could turn a hefty profit once Roblox has a direct listing on the New York Stock Exchange. Likewise, EMP, the direct-to-consumer merchandise store Warner acquired in 2018, helped offset losses in expanded rights recording contracts from the touring shutdown. Peloton, the in-home cycle that streams instructor-led classes, is a relatively new licensee of music. These companies, like streaming services and food delivery apps, all benefited from stay-at-home orders issued during the pandemic.
As COVID-19 vaccinations have rolled out in the U.S. and elsewhere, a larger question stands out: Will the companies helped by the pandemic maintain their momentum? Yes, Warner “see[s] this as a growth area even after we come out of COVID,” said CFO Eric Levin during the call.
Warner’s future rests mostly to streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon, not gaming or fitness products. Developing markets, Spotify’s price hikes in nine countries and Amazon’s high-definition audio service are encouraging signs, said Levin. Podcasts stand to help labels and publishers, too, as music streaming services transition into audio platforms. “I believe that people come to the streaming services primary to listen to music and will listen to podcasts,” added CEO Stephen Cooper. “Those that come for podcasts will listen to music.”
Because Warner’s fiscal calendar runs a quarter behind a standard Gregorian calendar -- its fiscal first quarter is the calendar year’s fourth quarter -- the company does not have full-year figures. Other music companies typically report both fourth quarter and full-year earnings results this time of year.
Here are more key takeaways:
Fourth quarter headline numbers:
- Net income down 19% from $122 million to $99 million.
- Operating income before depreciation and amortization rose 13% from $236 million to $267 million.
- Adjusted EBITA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) rose 19% from $249 million to $297 million.
Warner’s headline numbers by division:
- Recorded music revenue up 7.1% from $1.26 billion to $1.34 billion. Its digital revenue grew 15% from $633 million to $727 million.
- Recorded music’s streaming revenue climbed 17.5%.
- Music publishing revenue up 1.2% from $173 million to $175 million. Its digital revenue jumped 36% from $73 million to $99 million.
Music publishing’s performance royalties declined 35% “primarily due to COVID-related business disruption.”
Revenue by geography:
- U.S. revenue was up 7.1% from $534 million to $572 million.
- International revenue grew 5.7% from $723 millions to $764 million.
Update 2/5: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Warner invested $550 million in Roblox. The label group was actually part of a $520 million investment round, and its contribution to that amount was not disclosed.