Bertelsmann seeks $1.5bn for Sony-BMG stake

Bertelsmann, the German media group, is seeking $1.2bn-$1.5bn for its half share in Sony BMG after opening talks that could result in Sony gaining full control of the world’s second-largest music company within weeks.

Three people said the companies hoped to strike a deal over the summer, but cautioned that there were still differences over price.

Talks could still founder or be overtaken by interest from third parties but any deal would put an early end to a joint venture launched in August 2004 as a response to the impact of digital media on the recorded music business.

Since then, compact disc sales have continued to fall faster than digital revenues have grown, but Sony BMG’s greater scale has cushioned it against some of the pressures on EMI and Warner Music, the smaller music groups.

Bertelsmann and Sony agreed when they merged Sony Music and Bertelsmann Music Group that either side could buy the other out by August 2009.

Hartmut Ostrowski, who took over as Bertelsmann chief executive in January, has led the company towards an exit from the music business. The group sold its music publishing business before he took charge.

Mr Ostrowski has pledged to boost the privately held group’s sales by switching resources from traditional but low-growth businesses such as book clubs to new areas such as media services. He has also stressed the company’s desire to enter the educational-publishing market and to expand in China and India.

“Ostrowski has announced a growth strategy. If the first thing he does is to put money into a record company, many people would think that fairly strange,” one executive told the Financial Times.

Another person briefed about the matter said: “Both sides are talking and there seems to be a general feeling that you might as well finish quickly what you have now begun. We could see a deal in weeks.”

People familiar with the negotiations confirmed German reports that Bertelsmann was looking for up to $1.5bn, although this could fall if Sony pledged to buy services from Bertelsmann, whose Arvato arm manufactures and distributes CDs. For Sony, full ownership could allow deeper integration of music into Sony Ericsson’s mobile phones.

Bertelsmann, Sony and Sony BMG declined to comment.

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