Majors Keen On Film, TV Music

At a time when corporate mergers, acquisitions, consolidations, and realignments are continually shifting the music industry landscape, the licensing of music for usage in film and television has beco

The songs remain the same. But the business seems to be changing daily. At a time when corporate mergers, acquisitions, consolidations, and realignments are continually shifting the music industry landscape, the licensing of music for usage in film and television has become an increasingly central focus.

And as the major labels struggle in the midst of these shake-ups to improve their bottom line, licensing has proven a prime catalyst in restructuring and streamlining divisions that tally a sizable portion of revenue from the sector.

For major labels, licensing has become an increasingly significant revenue generator as radio playlists have narrowed and record sales have slumped. Film, TV and commercial placements are now seen as a legitimate and lucrative way to either break a new band or as a way to exploit and reinvigorate catalog classics. For creators of film and television, the creative and commercial benefits of achieving just the right match of music and picture are as compelling as ever.

"There appear to be more opportunities to license to film and TV than ever before," says Martin Bandier, who, as chairman and CEO of EMI Music Publishing, oversees a catalog of a million-plus titles ranging from "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" to "Louie Louie."

"Last season, we had over 100 songs that we licensed to (Fox's) 'American Idol' alone. Our synchronization area has had double-digit compound annual growth for the past 10 years. The licensing area is a spectacular one, and it has enabled our company to grow and to have a better profit picture in spite of the declining and sometimes free-falling recorded music market," Bandier says.

A year ago, some of EMI Music Publishing's sister companies went through a restructuring, leading to the creation of an EMI Music Marketing division that encompasses licensing of masters, catalog developments and special markets efforts. But Bandier says that kind of reorganization has not changed his relationship with the label side of EMI or the way that licensing deals are approached.

"This business changes on an hourly basis," he laughs. "But quite often the changes at the top don't really change the way that business actually gets done."

The latest and most significant change in the music world took place in March, when Edgar Bronfman Jr. and a team of investors completed their purchase of the Warner Music Group. That deal included both the publishing arm Warner/Chappell Music, as well as Warner Strategic Marketing, which serves as the central licensing and catalog development division for the company and includes Rhino Entertainment, Warner Music Group Soundtracks, WSM Home Video, Warner Special Products and WMG's television marketing department.

The WMG sale led to back-office consolidation, extensive layoffs and a flurry of executive changes. But for those on the licensing front lines, business hasn't changed much. "I'm down to a staff of three, from a staff of five. I need a new business card, but I don't anticipate the way we do business will change much," Warner/Chappell senior vp film and television Brad Rosenberger says.

"We administered the Warner Bros. catalog and will continue to do so. The film and TV studios aren't sister companies anymore, but it's not like anybody ever got a 50% discount on anything for being family. We'll continue to work closely with Warner Bros. Studios. But my job is the same as it was before--to get as much of our stuff placed in a project no matter what the studio is," Rosenberger says.

WSM senior vp Mark Pinkus, who has been heading up the sync licensing department for the past nine months, says the pressure his staff feels is less from the corporate transition and more from the pace of business-as-usual.

"We saw a greater than 10% increase in requests from 2002-'03, and the pace that we're on this year is greater than that--the number of requests coming in is stronger than ever," Pinkus notes.

"There's a great focus now on the bottom lines. Everyone wants to hit their quarterly and yearly numbers, and that pressure certainly exists within Warner Strategic Marketing. But I believe that pressure exists within the entire industry," he adds.

Chuck Crisafulli is a contributor for Billboard sister publication The Hollywood Reporter.