Warner Music Group Reports Quarterly Revenue Records for Recordings & Publishing

Artistes

Company-wide revenue reached a record $1.75 billion on streaming gains and strong physical sales.

Jack Harlow

Cian Moore

Warner Music Group (WMG) revenue reached a record $1.75 billion from October through December, the company announced Wednesday (Feb. 7). That’s up 17.5% from the prior-year quarter (up 15.9% at constant currency), as both the recorded music and publishing divisions posted their best-ever quarterly revenues. 

With Spotify and other streaming services having raised prices in 2023, WMG’s digital revenue increased 16% and streaming revenue grew 16.6%. The company also posted gains in physical sales, licensing revenue and music publishing performance royalties, though the company saw declines in recorded music artist services and expanded rights revenue. Net income rose 55.6% to $193 million and operating income improved 33.6% to $354 million.  

“These results reflect the impact of our chart-topping artists, hit-making songwriters, iconic catalog, and laser focus on execution by all our teams,” CEO Robert Kyncl said in a statement. “As we deliver our plan to accelerate our growth, we are becoming more efficient, increasing operating leverage, and freeing up more funds to invest in music and tech, which in turn will drive further sustainable growth.” 

Moments after WMG released the quarter’s results — an earnings call will take place Thursday morning (Feb. 8) — news broke that the company will eliminate its staff by 10%, primarily through the sale of owned and operated media companies such as Uproxx and HipHopDX. The company will also eliminate its in-house ad sales function and plans to wind down its podcasting brand, The Interval, as well as social media publisher IMGN. The reductions will free up $200 million in cost savings that can be reinvested elsewhere, Kyncl wrote in a memo to staff obtained by Billboard.

WMG shares were up 6.4% to $36.19 in after-hours trading following the late afternoon release of earnings results and staff reductions.

Excluding three extraordinary items, WMG’s revenue growth was 12.1% (10.6% at constant currency). A previously disclosed licensing agreement extension for an artist’s catalog added $68 million of revenue and a digital licensing agreement renewal added $27 million to the quarter. The termination of a distribution agreement with BMG resulted in $13 million less revenue than the prior-year quarter.  

Recorded music revenue improved 16.6% to $1.45 billion on the success of Zach Bryan, Bruno Mars, the Barbie soundtrack and Jack Harlow, whose track “Lovin on Me” first reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in December and recently spent its fourth non-consecutive week atop the chart dated Feb. 3. The segment’s digital revenue grew 13.1% to $908 million while physical revenue climbed 15.8% to $154 million. Licensing revenue jumped 84.5% to $179 million. 

Music publishing revenue grew 21.6% (19.7% at constant currency) to $304 million thanks to a 32.2% improvement in streaming revenue and a 31.5% gain in digital revenue. Mechanical royalties — which are tied to downloads and physical purchases — rose 7.1% to $15 million. Publishing’s synch revenue was flat at $39 million as lower commercial licensing activity in the United States was offset by the timing of some legal settlements.  

WMG’s margins improved nearly across the board in the quarter. Company-wide, the company’s operating margin rose 2.5 percentage points to 20.3% and its adjusted operating income before depreciation and amortization (OIBDA) margin rose 3.3 percentage points to 25.8% (and was flat excluding BMG’s termination, the license extension and digital license renewal). Recorded music’s adjusted OIBDA margin rose 4.4 percentage points to 28.5% and its operating margin improved 3.1 percentage points to 25.9%. The publishing division’s operating margin rose 1.1 percentage points to 20.7% while its adjusted OIBDA margin declined 0.5 percentage points to 28.3%, due primarily to the impact of exchange rates. 

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