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Universal Music 2016 Earnings: Streaming Drove Revenue Growth for Recordings, Publishing

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Sir Lucian Grainge, Chairman and CEO UMG, attends the Universal Music Group's 2017 Grammy After Party at The Theatre at Ace Hotel on Feb. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles.

Sizable growth in streaming and subscription services again helped Universal Music Group offset falling physical and download sales in 2016. Annual earnings released by parent company Vivendi show UMG's recorded music revenues grew by 2.9 percent last year, made possible by a 57.9 percent jump in streaming.

UMG's overall revenues were €5.26 billion ($5.57 billion), up  3.1% from the prior year’s total of (€5.11 billion, or $5.41 billion), or 4.4 percent at constant currency basis. The label group's earnings before interest, taxes, and amortization (EBITA) -- seen as a key way to measure profitability and efficiency -- amounted to €644 million ($681 million), up 8.4% from the prior year’s total of €593 million, or 9.1 percent at constant currency compared to 2015. 

("Constant currency" is a measure that eliminates foreign currency fluctuations -- like the British pound following Brexit -- which can impact earnings reported in a single currency.)

When certain charges and depreciation is added back in Billboard estimates UMG’s earnings before interest taxes, depreciation and amortization at €746 million ($786 million), as opposed to €711 million ($749 million) in the prior year, an increase of 4.9%. 

The rise of music streaming also helped publishing revenues grow 6.7 percent compared to 2015, though synchronization and performance income also helped in that segment. Revenue in merchandising (and "other") grew 16.1 percent thanks to "stronger touring activity" among its artists, according to the earnings report. Income from music operations jumped 10.7 percent compared to 2015, which was down 0.6 percent, amounting to €687 million ($726.9 million). The company cited "revenue growth and cost savings" for this turnaround.

UMG's best sellers for the year included new releases from Drake, Rihanna and Ariana Grande, as well as carryover sales from Justin Bieber.

Breaking out music revenue by division, recorded music posted €4.19 billion in revenue ($4.41 billion), up 1.8%, or 2.8% on a constant currency basis, from the €4.11 billion ($4.33 billion) garnered in 2015; while music publishing saw revenue grow  to €792 million ($834.4 million), up 4.7%, or 6.7% on a constant currency basis from €756 billion ($796 .5 million).

New signings during the last two years since Jody Gerson took over as chairman and CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group include Prince, R.E.M., Pearl Jam, Don Henley and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Maroon 5, Grammy-winning producer of the year, Jeff Bhasker, Shawn Mendes, DNCE, Travis Scott, Nick Jonas, Joe Jonas, Demi Lovato, Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez, Randy Newman and Romeo Santos; while extended deals include Adele, ColdplayJ. Cole, Nicki Minaj, Mumford & Sons, Martin Garrix and J Balvin, according to a statement put out by the publishing division.

Meanwhile, merchandising, which includes the Bravado division, also had a good year boosted by touring activity, with revenue growing to €313 million ($329.8 million) from €276 million ($290.8 million), an increase of 13.4%.

Within recorded music, digital accounted for €2.24 billion ($2.36 billion) in revenue, up 1.8% from €1.98 billion ($2.08 billion). Breaking that our further , streaming was €1.48 billion ($1.56 billion), while downloads were €755 million ($795.4 million). That’s a different story than 2015 when download revenue was larger than streaming, with sales of €1.02 billion ($1.08 billion) versus subscription revenue of €954 million  ($1 billion). So streaming grew 55.5%, while downloads fell 31%.

Finally, physical revenue fell to €1.48 billion ($1.56 billion) from €1.44 billion ($1.51 billion), a decline of nearly 15%.

In terms of percentages, streaming accounted for 35.4% of revenue, physical 29.3%, downloads, 18% and licensing 17.3% in 2016 as compared with 2015 when streaming was 23.2%, downloads was 24.8%, physical was the leader at 34.9%; and licensing and other revenue at 17%.

Looking at music revenue another way, North America generated €1.8 billions ($1.9 billion), or 43.1%; Europe, €1.48 billion ($1.56 billion), or 35.4%; Asia, €542 million ($571 million), or 12.9%, Latin America €135 million ($142 million), or 3.2% and the rest of the world, €224 million ($236 million) or 5.3%. North America and Asia represented the most growth for the Universal Music Group in 2016. 

Other information provided in the report include Vivendi’s ownership in Vevo increasing to 49.4% at the end of 2016 from 48.7% in 2015; and that future royalties to artists and songwriters totaled €1.98 billion ($2.09), versus €1.85 billion  ($1.95 billion) at the end of 2015. 

Vivendi's revenue was €10.819 billion, up a slight 0.5 percent year over year.