STEPHEN COOPER, 70
CEO, Warner Music Group
Last Year’s Rank: 13
Cooper’s WMG was the only major-label group to gain market share in 2016, rising 2.7 percent to 21.4 percent. A Gary, Ind., native and father of two, Cooper oversaw a revenue increase of 9.4 percent to $3.2 billion, thanks to strong sellers like the Suicide Squad and Hamilton soundtracks and releases from Twenty One Pilots, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Bruno Mars.
You invested $1 billion in your artists in 2016. Were you putting money behind acts already on the roster or diversifying?
We’ve diversified substantially — our investment in local artists around the globe is really becoming one of our great strengths and paying off. As we talk today, we’re the No. 1 music company in both China and Russia. It’s really about a deep investment in both international and local artists, building careers so that we’re confident they’ll be around for years.
The conventional wisdom is that many local artists aren’t exportable unless they’re from the U.S. or England. Does that still hold true?
In certain respects it doesn’t matter, in other respects it does. I was at a concert Sunday night with one of our bands from Japan, a young group called One OK Rock. They sold out in New York City. I think it’s a sign that in the era of streaming and the internet, great artists and great music can come from anywhere.
Last May, WMG declared streaming its primary revenue source. How much longer will “freemium” be viable?
It has served Spotify very well, and there’s a place for free to funnel to premium subscription services. But there has to be sufficient differentiation between free and premium so that users really understand the choices they make.
Are you talking about exclusives?
I’m absolutely against exclusives. That’s like an arms race and it confuses the music fans. As content providers, we want our music to be ubiquitous. Our distributors want music to be exclusive. It’s up to the content providers to ensure that music fans have music at the same time when they want it.
According to Nielsen, music video streaming was up 8% last year. How does WMG take advantage of that growth?
While I can’t say I’m happy about the economics that we get from YouTube, it is a source of discovery. I believe that over the next year or two having viable video streaming will become important to Facebook, Spotify, [and] Apple. As they work with content developers to expand video streaming, hopefully YouTube will respond voluntarily before that, but if not, YouTube will be replaced.
Is there a new technology or platform that is exciting you?
Not any particular one. We continue to invest in businesses that will enhance our artists’ social profiles and extend their reach. We want to be able to create for them the largest stage they will ever play.
How will the Trump administration affect the music industry?
Given his history of protecting his own intellectual property, we hope that he will empathize with our efforts to protect ours.