Hasbro, the toy company that bought Entertainment One in 2019, has put eOne’s music operation on the block and is seeking a $600 million payday, according to sources.
eOne’s music assets include ownership of the famed Death Row Records rap catalog, Dualtone Records, Canadian label Last Gang Records, the production music operation Audio Network, a small music publishing operation and a digital indie distribution company.
Its portfolio also includes the catalogs of other labels acquired by eOne, including DRG’s Broadway soundtracks, Sheraton Square’s rock recordings, and Compendia and Light Records’ Christian/gospel music. Among those collective catalogs are recordings by Dr. Dre, the Lumineers, The Game, Ace Frehley, Black Label Society, Blueface, Brandy, Chuck Berry, En Vogue, Ghostface Killah, Guy Clark, Lil Kim, Lalah Hathaway, Pop Evil, Snoop Dogg, the Strumbellas, Wakka Flakka Flame, Solomon Burke, RZA, Bob James, Charlie Daniels and the Broadway musical actress Barbara Cook; but some of those deals were licensing deals, according to sources.
All told, eOne generates about $120 million in annual revenue, according to the company’s financial results from 2019.
eOne did not respond to a request for comment.
Hasbro acquired eOne on Dec. 30, 2019, paying $3.8 billion and assuming $785 million in debt from the acquired company. Press reports at the time said Hasbro was largely interested in eOne’s film division and its children properties, including hit franchises Peppa Pig, PJ Masks and My Little Pony. While the music arm of the company at one time was prominent in issuing children’s music like the Strawberry Shortcake catalog, those deals were largely licensed music and the company’s presence in that genre has receded, apparently leaving it outside Hasbro’s core focus.
Earlier in 2019, eOne acquired the Audio Limited production music company for about $215 million, according to press reports. While most music segments have escalated in value during the industry’s revival, driven by streaming, production music is still viewed as a tough business to operate in and has lower valuations than other music publishing assets.
While Audio One would seem to be a good strategic fit with eOne’s film properties, sources say it is included in the music assets being shopped by J.P. Morgan. According to sources, licensing and the small publishing operation Audio Limited accounted for about one third of overall revenue, or about $40 million. Meanwhile the label operation, which includes an artist management arm, comprises about two-thirds of revenue, or $80 million. Moreover, the music operation includes a small digital distribution operation that generates about $15 million a year in revenue, sources say, and distributes such labels as Shanachie and Putamayo.
While eOne’s Dualtone imprint controls the platinum selling Lumineers catalog, back when news of that 2016 acquisition emerged, sources told Billboard that the label had control of the catalog for about another five years, but didn’t own it. Sources say that the Lumineers catalog is a talking point in the information being provided to targeted suitors, so it’s possible that the company re-upped its deal with the band’s catalog for another term, or made some other kind of deal with them.
Dualtone’s Americana-heavy roster also includes The Lone Bellow, Robert Earl Keen, Shovels & Rope and Shakey Graves, among others.
Since music assets have been escalating in value, this marks the third large independent company coming to market in the last year, with the Kobalt Music Group and Downtown Music Group both being put up for sale, and all seeking anywhere from $500 million to $1 billion, according to industry sources. Kobalt couldn’t find a buyer for its entire company so it sold off its label services operations to Sony Music in a deal that is awaiting regulatory approval; while it’s unclear what’s going on with Downtown.
The eOne music operation began life in 1987 as Koch Entertainment with a focus on classical music. Founder Michael Koch soon expanded to distribute labels from all genres and launched his own record labels. Koch sold the company in 2005 to the Row Entertainment Income Fund for about $80 million. The fund subsequently changed its name to Entertainment One Income Fund and then simply Entertainment One — although it has had a confusing array of name changes for the music operation through the years, including eOne Music and E1. Chris Taylor, who sold his company Last Gang to Entertainment One, is currently running the music operation as global president Entertainment One Music.