A dustup between one of Canada’s biggest telecommunications companies and U.S. label Republic Records ended quickly with no damage to artists caught in the fray -- including The Weeknd and Ariana Grande.
A letter titled “URGENT LETTER TO CANADIAN BROADCASTERS” was sent out via email on Friday (Nov. 6) by a Rogers Media executive calling for a boycott of all Republic Records artists (among the acts on the label's roster are Nicki Minaj, Florence and the Machine and Jessie J) by its fellow broadcasters, such as Corus, Newcap and Cogeco (read it here). At issue: perceived favoritism. Rogers Media claims competitor Bell Media received exclusive content opportunities -- a club show headlined by The Weeknd and an Ariana Grande special -- that sidestepped standard promotion procedures and bypassed involvement of Universal Music Canada.
Furthermore, the letter's author, Rob Farina, vice president of programming & content at Rogers, asserts that Bell Media's new president of entertainment production and broadcasting, Randy Lennox, formerly the longtime president of Universal Music Canada, was complicit in such cronyism.
The letter called for removal of all Republic artists from radio playlists by Monday by 5 p.m. and called out chairman and CEO Monte Lipman as well as executive vice president Charlie Walk by name. But by Saturday, the matter was resolved.
“It never went there,” Farina tells Billboard. “The issue was resolved swiftly. We have no further comment.”
Bell Media Radio's VP of programming David Corey, meanwhile, categorically denies the accusations.
“Everything that Rob said in his email [letter] is completely incorrect and not the way that things have gone down," Corey tells Billboard. "I’m the one that booked The Weeknd show for Virgin Radio, way before Randy Lennox came over from Universal. I booked that through Abel [Tesfaye, AKA The Weeknd] and through [manager Tony] Sal because I have relationships with them.”
In fact, Lennox’s appointment to Bell was actually announced the same day The Weeknd’s concert took place at the Mod Club in Toronto, on Aug. 25. Corey says he booked that show four months prior and before he knew Lennox was leaving Universal for Bell.
“The Ariana Grande special ... that was booked through Premiere, a company out of the U.S. that is owned by iHeartMedia," adds Corey. "We own Orbyt, which does shows with Premiere all the time, so that came to us through the proper channels,” Corey says. “It was not Randy Lennox; it was not Charlie Walk; it was not Universal Republic."
Further, Corey defends, “Knowing that my boss came from Universal, I’ve been going out of my way to make sure that we don’t just do things with Universal artists because I don’t want any kind of perception that could be negative towards what we’re doing on the radio side. We went through Universal Canada just like all the other radio companies in this country. ... So to hear about this letter, I’m shocked. ... It’s a very big mistake on Rob's part to take this kind of position.”
Farina is, however, correct in pointing out a long friendship between Corey and Walk, who started in radio together in Boston, but considering that Walk's jurisdiction does not extend to Canada -- and that the global music industry is a familial bunch -- it seems misplaced, say insiders. "He took it too far," offers one source. Another points out what could be perceived as anti-competitive action in calling for a boycott. Yet another scoffs at the notion of punishing artists for what's essentially a behind-the-scenes squabble.
Apologies have since been offered and accepted, according to multiple sources.
Billboard has reached out to Republic Records and UMG for comment.