Multiple sources confirm to Billboard.biz that a deal is imminent for a partnership of Ticketmaster and Madison Square Garden Entertainment owner Cablevision to acquire about 49% of AEG Live, the live entertainment arm of Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG). Contacts at the three companies declined to comment.
A key component of the deal is Fuse TV, a cable music channel with studios headquartered across from Penn Station and the Garden in New York City, which since last spring has operated under the MSG umbrella. Fuse was formerly part of Rainbow Media, a division of Cablevision which includes the cable television networks WE:Women’s Entertainment, Independent Film Channel (IFC) and American Movie Classics (AMC).
Fuse, which sources say will undergo a multi-million dollar rebranding effort, will play a large role in the repositioning of AEG Live as a company now armed with a large media component and the world’s largest ticketing company in Ticketmaster.
Under the direction of CEO Randy Phillips, AEG Live is the second largest promoter in the world, reporting grosses totaling more than $742 million to Billboard Boxscore in 2007, trailing only Live Nation. Ticketmaster stakeholder (and former parent) IAC also owns a key stake in the Irving Azoff/Howard Kaufman mega-management firm Front Line Management. IAC chairman Barry Diller is believed to be a major broker in putting the deal together with Cablevision’s Dolan family, whose sports, media and entertainment holdings are numerous.
Live Nation has become a more comprehensive music company under CEO Michael Rapino’s direction, venturing into merchandising, digital marketing, sponsorships and artist management. If all the various components of this AEG Live/Cablevision/Ticketmaster deal come into play, AEG Live should be able to compete even more fiercely with Live Nation, who will leave Ticketmaster when its contract expires in 2009 and launch its own ticketing company.
AEG Live now has deep pockets, multi-media, ticketing, artist management, merchandising (BandMerch), a wide range of venues, a huge digital presence (Ticketmaster is the most visited live music site in existence at more than 23 million monthly uniques) and tour promotion/production in its own portfolio.
The deal gives Ticketmaster a fully-developed concert promoter interest and a solid ticketing partner, though will not replace Live Nation’s estimated 15 million Ticketmaster tickets sold annually. Still, as the ticketing business becomes more competitive, Ticketmaster will now be able to more fully realize its unique marketing power, and now enter the risk-taking promoter business in tandem with AEG Live.
Another wild card is MSGE, which has been acquisitive in its own right with last year’s purchase of the Chicago Theatre and New York properties like the Beacon Theatre and Radio City Music Hall. Under president Jay Marciano, MSGE also has a very successful multi-production in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, and successfully launched a four-year run of the Cirque du Soleil production Wintuk in 2007 at the WaMu Theatre at Madison Square Garden. The Garden has been the top-grossing arena in the world for several years running, and has for several months been considering constructing a new location across the street from its current Penn Station home.
Cablevision is a publicly-traded company (NYSE CVS) and AEG is private; given AEG retains majority ownership in AEG Live, Cablevision will probably be only able to report earnings it receives from the promoter.
The deal speaks volumes about how rapidly AEG Live has become an international force in live entertainment, beginning with the startup (and resurrection of a touring company brand) as Concerts West by Paul Gongaware and John Meglen in 2000, and its evolution to create AEG Live by the end of that year.
SoCal promoter/Coachella producer Goldenvoice was added a year later, and under the AEG Live banner the company has not only hired many of the most respected names in live music and opened global regional offices, but also nailed down multiple booking contracts for venues of all sizes and launched or become involved in several major music festivals.
Last year, AEG Live had such tours as Justin Timberlake, Kenny Chesney, Christina Aguilera and Hannah Montana in its camp. The company has also become known for arena-level residencies by superstars like Bon Jovi, Garth Brooks and Prince, and sweet-spot smaller capacity venues like the Nokia Theatres and Los Angeles. This year’s treks include Bon Jovi, Celine Dion and another Chesney run in partnership with TMG.