Coronavirus

PRS for Music Posts Record Results, Calls for Unity as Pandemic Rattles Industry: 'It's Crazy How Much Infighting There Is'

The Spice Girls
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Mel B, Emma Bunton, Geri Halliwell and Melanie C of The Spice Girls perform on the first night of the bands tour on May 24, 2019.

"If we do not think of the songwriters, composers and the artists, we as a music industry will not survive," says Andrea C. Martin. "We need to rally around that purpose."

LONDON – The chief executive of PRS for Music, one of the world's leading rights collection societies, has warned that unless the different factions of the U.K. music business put aside their differences and work together, the industry will not survive the coronavirus crisis.

Royalty revenues at London-based PRS for Music grew 8.7% in 2019 to total £811 million ($985 million), an increase of £65 million ($79 million) on a constant currency basis, year-end figures published Thursday reveal.

Of that total, a record £686 million ($833 million) was processed and paid out to songwriters, composers and music publishers, an almost 14% increase on the previous year.

Of course, 2019's record-breaking financial results were achieved pre-COVID 19 and it is almost certain that PRS' royalty collections will significantly fall in 2020 and, most likely, early 2021 on the back of the current global shutdown.

International receipts, for instance, were PRS' biggest single source of revenue last year with world tours by PRS members Ed Sheeran, Elton John, Florence + the Machine and The Rolling Stones helping drive £279 million ($339 million) in collections.

U.K. festivals and concerts by Ariana Grande, Spice Girls and Drake, along with music played in British shops, bars, restaurants and offices (collectively known as public performance), contributed a further £222 million ($270 million) to PRS' year-end total, a 16% rise on 2018.

With those revenue streams now cut off for an unknown time, PRS for Music CEO Andrea C. Martin says the impact will be felt by virtually every one of its 145,500 members, but it is too soon to estimate the financial cost of COVID-19.

"These are unprecedented and unpredictable times," she tells Billboard. "We're strong in live and international, so in the third and fourth quarters we will see a decrease, but by how much I really have no idea. We're doing everything we can to mitigate the risk and we're doing everything we can to protect the rights of songwriters and our members."

To that end, PRS for Music launched its emergency relief fund in March to help members severely financially impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. To date, the fund has paid out £1.2 million ($1.5 million) to more than 3,000 songwriters and composers.

The organization also held a 24-hour virtual fundraising gig (PRS Presents LCKDWN) April 24, featuring Tom Walker, Katie Melua and Linda Perry, among others, and has worked hard to speed up royalty processing and distribution times for members. Some international collections from societies in other markets are also paid in arrears, so a percentage of next year's international revenues will derive from concerts and tours in 2019.

Other glimmers of hope for the future can also be found in 2019's receipts from online platforms, including downloads, online video games and streaming services like Spotify and Amazon, which generated £179 million ($217 million) in 2019 (up 24% y/y) and will be relatively unaffected by the pandemic.

Included among that year-end total were PRS' first royalty collections from licensing deals brokered with Mixcloud, Facebook and Instagram in 2018, as well as revenues from video-on-demand services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, although Martin points out that in terms of absolute dollars, growth in online does not compensate the projected loss in live revenues.

Income from broadcasters, including the BBC and commercial network ITV, was £131 million ($159 million), up 2.4% on 2018, despite a decline in linear TV viewing.

In total, PRS processed 18.8 trillion music performances in 2019, a 68% rise on the previous year, with further transaction growth predicted in the future. Net costs reduced just under 7% y/y to £87 million ($105 million).

"We're leaders in our field," says Martin, pointing to a lean cost-to-income ratio and sustained growth of PRS for Music's international business.

Looking ahead, she says changes to ways that people are consuming and engaging with music, accelerated by the lockdown, will continue to transform the business. In March, PRS saw a 250% increase in licenses purchased for businesses broadcasting music from home, compared to March 2019. As more and more gigs are livestreamed, Martin anticipates further growth in online revenues.

"We will go into a much more digital world," she says. "What's really important, [as we] go through some very, very tough times, is that the music industry has to work much better together. We have to put our personal and company agendas aside. It's crazy how much infighting there is in our industry and we will not get through this if we continue in this way."

"We all have to put the purpose and the essence of this industry in the centre," she says. "If we do not think of the songwriters, composers and the artists, we as a music industry will not survive. We need to rally around that purpose."

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