Tencent group buys 10% of Universal Music for $3.4 billion

Tencent Holdings Chairman and CEO Ma Huateng is pictured in this file photo.
(VCG via Getty Images)

A consortium led by China’s Tencent Holdings Ltd. agreed to buy 10% of Universal Music Group from French media company Vivendi SA for $3.4 billion after months of talks.

The deal values the world’s biggest music company at $33.6 billion. Tencent and its partners can increase their stake to as much as 20% at the same valuation until Jan. 15, 2021, the companies said in statements Tuesday.

With the Chinese social media and gaming giant now officially on board, other potential investors may look at Universal Music. That would energize a sale process that seemed to be dragging along since Vivendi first announced plans to sell as much as half the business in July 2018.


Negotiations will now begin over the potential sale of a further minority stake at a price “which would at least be identical” to the deal with Tencent, Vivendi said. Shares of the company rose 0.4% as of 12:08 p.m. in Paris.

Vivendi is cashing in on a boom in subscription music streaming that’s inflated the value of its back catalog and a roster of stars including Taylor Swift, U2, Drake and Post Malone. Record company sales have jumped by an average 7% annually since 2014 and streaming has become the industry’s biggest source of revenue.

However, there are signs that streaming growth is beginning to slow in Europe and North America, while in Asia, music labels face continued piracy and regional rivals especially attuned to local tastes. Tencent could help Universal Music get closer to Asian audiences.

The companies didn’t name the other Tencent consortium members. Hillhouse Capital and Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC Pte. were among potential investors that the Chinese tech giant approached, people with knowledge of the matter told Bloomberg News in November. Vivendi first disclosed the talks with Tencent in August.

The deal brings some good news for Vivendi at the end of a frustrating year for its largest shareholder, billionaire Vincent Bollore. Other Vivendi businesses such as advertising and pay television are contending with competitive threats from digital rivals and the group’s investments in Italy have been bogged down in boardroom battles and legal fights.

Some analysts had criticized the slow pace of the Universal Music sale process and questioned the price demanded by Vivendi. The idea of a partial disposal of the business or an initial public offering has been mooted since 2017.