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Lucian Grainge Says Slowing Ad Market Won’t Shake Universal Music

Growth in streaming subscriptions, merchandising, touring offset slowdown in ad-supported revenues.

Universal Music Group on Thursday reported its fifth-straight quarter of revenue gains since its public spinoff from Vivendi last year — up 13.3%, as its varied business divisions helped offset slow-downs in areas sensitive to global economic uncertainty.

On a call with analysts, UMG chairman and chief executive Lucian Grainge attributed the company’s strong quarter — coming amid a downturn in the advertising market — to its diversification strategy. Over Grainge’s 17-years at the helm, UMG has built dominant positions in multiple geographic markets and across nearly every major segment in music, making it less susceptible to “the inevitable ebbs and flows in revenue of any particular business,” he said.

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That helped UMG offset a slowdown in ad-supported streaming revenues, which have been hampered by companies spending less amid fears of a recession. Ad-supported streaming revenues for the quarter grew by 5.2% in constant currency compared to the third quarter last year. That’s a slowdown from the second quarter this year when ad-supported revenues grew by 15.6% in constant currency compared to second quarter 2021.

“We noted we would not be immune to a downturn in the advertising market, which is indeed what happened,” Grainge said on the call discussing the company’s earnings for the third quarter, which ended Sept. 30. “The slower growth in the third quarter in ad-supported streaming revenue was offset by growth in so many other areas of our business. From subscription to licensing, live touring to merchandising, to continued growth throughout music publishing.”

Subscription revenues grew by 8.7% from a year ago in constant currency — a measure UMG uses to strip out fluctuations in foreign exchange markets. UMG chief financial officer Boyd Muir said subscriber growth among the digital streaming providers remains healthy and “we have not seen any signs of economic related slowdowns.”

Licensing and other revenue grew by 30.2% in constant currency due to the recovery of live touring in certain European, Latin American and Asian markets where UMG is involved in that business. Merchandising and other revenue grew by over 100% in constant currency compared to the year ago quarter, also helped by growth in touring.

The company saw an $80 million increase in touring revenues in the quarter compared to last year from top selling acts like BTS, BLACKPINK, Ado, INI and Morgan Wallen, executives said.

While a significant contributor to the company’s quarter, touring earns UMG a lower profit margin compared to its other businesses, Muir said.

“As I’ve mentioned before, that’s a very low-margin business — let’s call it, the 8% to 10% kind of area,” Muir said. “Nevertheless, it’s an incredibly important part of our business. And it means that we can actually connect the fan with the artists. So it’s of increasing importance to us as we address the requirements of the super fans.”

Looking to the next quarter, the executives said to expect the company’s adjusted EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) margin, a closely watched metric of profitability, to be flat for the year at around 20.8%.

The company’s stock price closed down 5.61% on Friday (Oct. 28).