Utopia Music Buys Leading UK Physical Distributor Cinram Novum

LONDON — Swiss-based tech company Utopia Music is making further inroads into the record business with the acquisition of U.K. physical distributor Cinram Novum, which provides warehouse, fulfillment and distribution services to a number of labels, including Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and PIAS.

Terms were not disclosed for the deal, which was done through Utopia’s U.K. subsidiary Utopia Distribution Services Limited. The acquisition marks a significant expansion of the company’s fast-growing music distribution business.

In January, Utopia acquired Proper Music Group, the U.K.’s leading independent physical music distributor, which provides distribution services for 1,000-plus indie labels and service companies and counts Rough Trade, HMV and supermarkets Tesco, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s among its retail clients. Proper also handles “dropship fulfillment” — meaning it stocks and ships vinyl records and CDs directly to customers — on behalf of Believe, The Orchard and Amazon.

In line with the acquisition of Proper, Utopia launched its own dedicated Distribution Services unit at the start of the year, providing independent and major labels with a large suite of physical and digital services, including distribution, sales, manufacturing and marketing.

Utopia followed the Proper deal in February with the purchase of Absolute Label Services, a U.K.-based distribution and services provider to independent artists and record labels, also for an undisclosed sum.

Based in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire (around 40 miles outside of central London), Cinram Novum is one of the U.K.’s leading physical home entertainment suppliers, operating a 350,000-square-foot warehousing and distribution facility. Its business has, however, been hit hard by the fall in physical music and film DVD sales and went into administration in 2017, after which it was acquired by Patriot Group Investments.

Recent years have seen a continued decline in the popularity of physical music purchases in the U.K., although that trend turned around in 2021 when physical format sales grew by 14.6% year-on-year to just under £241 million ($277 million), according to data from U.K. labels trade body BPI.

BPI credited the ongoing resurgence in vinyl sales and the continued popularity of the CD — fueled by big-selling releases by ABBA, Ed Sheeran and Adele — with driving the rise in physical format revenues. Vinyl sales last year grew by 34% year-on-year to £116 million ($133 million), and CD sales ticked up 1.4% to £117 million ($134 million), the first growth for the format in four years.

Despite stronger-than-expected sales, Cinram Novum continued to struggle financially, with Utopia’s buyout saving the 40-year-old company from insolvency and securing around 300 jobs.

“The loss of Cinram Novum would have been detrimental to the entire U.K. music industry, resulting in financial losses and disruption for labels, retailers, artists and their fans,” says Roberto Neri, Utopia Music’s chief operating officer.

“Through this acquisition,” Neri says, “our intention is that Utopia can secure Cinram’s future.”

Founded in 2016 and headquartered in the Swiss town of Zug, Utopia Music has embarked on a busy multi-million-dollar acquisition spree over the past 18 months, as it grows its global music footprint.

In addition to buying Proper and Absolute Label Services, recent deals include the purchases of music tech company Musimap last September and Lyric Financial, a Nashville-based provider of royalty-backed cash advances, in November.

In December, Utopia added U.S.-based music industry directory ROSTR and Austria-based music data analytics platform ForTunes. At the same time, Utopia launched a new creator services business unit. Other acquisitions the company has closed this year includes a deal for Liverpool-based independent publisher Sentric Music Group.

Warner Music Chief Innovation Officer Scott Cohen to Step Down

Warner Music Group (WMG) chief innovation officer Scott Cohen is stepping down from his role at the end of the month, according to an internal memo obtained by Billboard.

“Scott’s a pioneer who has always been alive to the possibilities that ignite when music and technology intersect,” wrote WMG CEO Max Lousada in the memo. “He’s helped us identify and engage with new partners to the benefit of our artists and our company. But Scott has always enjoyed building things from scratch and so he is off to pursue new adventures that we’ll hear about soon.”

Following Cohen’s departure, the team overseeing the delivery of operator and artist tools will report into WMG’s chief transformation officer Mel Fox and chief enterprise transformation officer Janelle Curtis. Meanwhile, Jerry Zhang and Arjun Bali — A&R senior vps and co-founders of the A&R technology tool Sodatone, which WMG acquired in 2018 — will now report to Warner Recorded Music president and CMO Eric Wong.

Cohen, who worked as an artist manager before co-founding distribution company The Orchard in 1997, joined WMG as chief innovation officer in March 2019 after stepping down from his role at The Orchard a month prior.

Alongside co-founder Richard Gottehrer, Cohen built The Orchard into the largest independent distributor on iTunes when the download platform launched in 2003. They sold the company to Dimensional Associates that same year and subsequently expanded into video, music licensing, marketing & analytics, royalty collections, sports media, neighboring rights and more. Sony bought the company from Dimensional in March 2015 for $200 million and in 2017 merged it with RED into a single global distribution entity operating under the Orchard brand. The Orchard sold its film and TV business to 1091 Media in January 2019.

Cohen, who has been active as a public speaker and lecturer promoting new digital business models as well as emerging technologies like augmented reality, virtual reality, blockchain and artificial intelligence, is also the co-founder of CyborgNest, which explores the crossover between biological and digital intelligence.

Lowry Mays, Clear Channel Founder Who Consolidated Media Business, Dies at 87

Lowry Mays, the San Antonio petroleum engineer whose broadcast giant Clear Channel dominated the radio, concert and outdoor-advertising businesses for decades, died Monday at age 87. His alma mater, Texas A&M, did not specify a location or cause of death in its announcement.

Mays bought his first radio station in 1972 — he actually co-signed a note for an FM station in his San Antonio hometown, prompting Forbes to call him the “accidental broadcaster” years later — and soon expanded his holdings to Tulsa, Louisville and elsewhere. It wasn’t until he bought a larger station, San Antonio’s WOAI, and changed the format from rock ‘n’ roll to news-talk that he “just started cash-flowing money,” as he said in a Voices of San Antonio interview years later.

“Lowry is the classic American story of taking expertise, determination, and an idea and willing it into a success,” former mayor and U.S. Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros told San. Antonio Report in 2018.

Eventually, Mays expanded into TV affiliates around the U.S. and outdoor advertising, an industry he quickly dominated, buying billboards in 65 different companies. “I told our salesmen, ‘We’re not in the outdoor business or the radio business or any other business,'” he told Voices of San Antonio. “We’re in the business of selling other people’s products.”

In the 1990s, Clear Channel took advantage of the Telecommunications Act, signed by President Bill Clinton, and became one of a few companies dominating the broadcast business, owning 1,200 stations that made a collective $3 billion per year in revenues. In 2000, the company turned to the concert business, paying $4.4 billion for SFX Entertainment, which had spent the previous few years rolling up independent concert promoters around the U.S.

At the time, Mays declared the company’s aggressive media consolidation necessary for its digital future. “It is increasingly clear that the internet is a critical component of our company’s future growth and shareholder return,” he told Billboard in 2000.

But others in the radio and concert businesses were worried: A general manager at one of the Clear Channel-bought stations declared the company “cheap channel” at a Minneapolis industry event, according to Billboard; Eric Boehlert, the late former Billboard radio reporter, headlined a Salon Clear Channel report “Radio’s Big Bully”; and a Denver promoter sued Clear Channel, alleging it used its radio and concert holdings in a monopolistic way to prevent competitors to advertise in the market, “resulting in higher prices and fewer offerings for consumers.” (The case later settled.)

In 2005, Clear Channel spun off its concert unit into a new company, Live Nation, which has since remained the top promoter in the U.S. Mays’ son, Randall, has been on the company’s board of directors since its inception.

Born in Houston, Mays earned his petroleum-engineering degree at Texas A&M University and worked as a summer roughneck on the oil industry’s drill floor. He served in the Air Force and wound up working on a pipeline in Taiwan, where he managed 10,000 people who dug by hand. He later earned an MBA from Harvard Business School and moved back to San Antonio to form an investment-banking company in 1970. That was when he co-signed the note for the FM radio station. “I didn’t decide to go into radio,” he explained, adding that when the banking executive told him he owned the station, he said, “Oh, my God, what will I do now?”

By 2008, Clear Channel had a $17 billion market cap, controlling 9% of U.S. radio stations and 18% of radio-industry revenue. That year, the Mays family sold Clear Channel for a reported $25 million; the company, today called iHeartMedia, is the world’s biggest broadcaster, owning 860 stations in 160 markets, from Z100 in New York to Alt 98.7 in Los Angeles, as well as Premiere Networks, which syndicates voices from Steve Harvey to Sean Hannity.

Through his family foundation, Mays contributed $163 million to charities, serving as head of San Antonio’s Chamber of Commerce and United Way president; he chaired Texas A&M’s board of regents from 2003 to 2005, after serving two terms as regent. A staunch conservative, Mays donated regularly to Republican candidates, from his friend, the late President George Bush, to President George W. Bush to Sen. Marco Rubio.

In the Voices of San Antonio interview, he gave this advice to young entrepreneurs: “Work hard, get a strong work ethic as young as you can and try to build something worthwhile, whether it’s a performing arts studio or whether it’s a television station. Something that will keep you excited that you can continue to grow.”

Lady Gaga, Bad Bunny, The Weeknd & More Pop Stars Are Proving What It Takes to Be a Stadium Headliner

For a good chunk of her Chromatica Ball tour stop at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday night, Lady Gaga was just a girl on a piano in the middle of a baseball field surrounded by 52,000 of her closest friends. Which got us wondering: How does a pop star get to the point where she can command an audience that massive all on her own?

On the new Billboard Pop Shop Podcast, Katie & Keith are talking all about that Dodger Stadium concert (Katie was in the crowd!) and what it takes to be a stadium headliner in 2022, with pop stars from The Weeknd to Bad Bunny currently playing stadiums around the country.

How does an artist make a show just as entertaining for someone in the pit as the person in the back row of the upper deck? And how can artists make the burden of getting in and out of such a huge venue worth their time and money? Listen to the podcast below for our full discussion:

Also on the show, we’ve got news on how “As It Was” by Harry Styles spends a 13th week at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming one of just, well, 13 songs to spend 13 weeks or more at No. 1 in the 64-year history of the chart. Plus, Styles’ “Late Night Talking” jumps 12-3 after a surge in sales and promotion, and he becomes the first act with concurrent songs in the top three on the chart this year. Also, OneRepublic hits the Hot 100 top 10 for the first time since 2014, Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti now has the most weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart in more than a year, and Morgan Wallen’s former No. 1 album Dangerous: The Double Album breaks a top 10 longevity record on the Billboard 200.

The Billboard Pop Shop Podcast is your one-stop shop for all things pop on Billboard’s weekly charts. You can always count on a lively discussion about the latest pop news, fun chart stats and stories, new music, and guest interviews with music stars and folks from the world of pop. Casual pop fans and chart junkies can hear Billboard’s executive digital director, West Coast, Katie Atkinson and Billboard’s senior director of charts Keith Caulfield every week on the podcast, which can be streamed on Billboard.com or downloaded in Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast provider. (Click here to listen to the previous edition of the show on Billboard.com.)

Juan Gabriel Estate & Cirque Musica Announce ‘Multi-Sensory’ Production to Honor Late Artist

The Juan Gabriel Estate and Cirque Musica have announced the production of “Cirque Musica Presents Querida: The Official Celebration of Juan Gabriel,” which will kick off in Mexico City in October.

According to a press release issued by Cirque Musica — which produces cirque-style shows featuring acrobats, aerialists and “daredevil” athleticism combined with the “greatest music of all time” — the company has signed a global rights deal with the late Mexican artist’s estate for the creation and production of the show “with the purpose of bringing the joyful legacy of the singer to the fans.” The first iteration will take place Oct. 22 at the San Rafael Theater.

“We will continue his legacy in every way we can so his work and art can reach a new generation,” said Ivan Aguilera, Juan Gabriel‘s son, in a statement. “I am thrilled to work with Cirque Musica to bring this spectacular interpretation of my father’s legacy to his amazing fans. My father was a natural entertainer and I know he would be very pleased with this production.”

Added Stephen Cook, president of TCG Entertainment, creator and producer of Cirque Musica, “Cirque Musica is honored to be working with Juan Gabriel’s estate to bring this production to the stage. Our goal is to be the biggest and the best show in the world and this is the next step. We understand the importance of Juan Gabriel and the impact his music made, and we are excited to bring this celebration to his loyal Mexican fans.”

According to a description of the production, “Cirque Musica Presents Querida” will interpret the music of the legendary recording star and prolific songwriter with “an extraordinary cirque presentation to include breath-taking aerial performances and acrobats; creating an artistic spectacle in tribute to the beloved Mexican icon.”

News of this project comes months after the estate signed an exclusive global agreement with Virgin Music US Latin and UMPG that includes “never-before-released” material. The deal will represent the singer’s post-2008 catalog and future recordings, and also extended its publishing administration agreement with Universal Music Publishing Group, which will exclusively represent Gabriel’s extraordinary catalog of songs worldwide.

Gabriel died of a heart attack the morning of Aug. 28, 2016, in Los Angeles following a show at The Forum. At the time, the 66-year-old singer and icon was at the peak of his career in the midst of the U.S. leg of his MeXXico Es Todos tour, a 22-city arena trek that had him playing 360 stages to accommodate sold-out crowds.

‘Better Call Saul’: How to Binge the Show Online & Pre-Order the Complete Series Blu-Ray

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Better Call Saul fans expressed their frustration after the series was snubbed at the 2022 Emmy Awards. The hit show, starring Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seahorn, Jonathan Banks, Michael Mando, Giancarlo Esposito and Patrick Fabian, came to and end last month after six seasons.

Judging by the flood of social media reactions, and the fact the “What a sick joke” was trending on Twitter during and after the Emmys, fans expected the show to win at least one award.

Better Call Saul. The masterclass in acting, writing, directing, and cinematography. Zero wins. WHAT A SICK JOKE,” read one viral tweet.

Better Call Saul not getting a single Emmy is very ironic. In 10 years people will still be talking about it while the rest of these shows will become distant memories to everyone,” another fan tweeted.

The Breaking Bad prequel series has been nominated 46 times over six seasons but never won an Emmy. Better Call Saul is set six years before Saul Goodman (Odenkirk) became Walter White’s (Bryan Cranston’s) lawyer. In the series, Saul starts off as Jimmy McGill, a small-time lawyer hustling to make ends meet. The show chronicles Jimmy’s transformation from a fast-talking public defender into a criminal lawyer.

Whether you’re already a fan of the series or haven’t watched yet, you can binge all six seasons online or pre-order the full series on Blu-ray. The Better Call Saul complete collection includes 19 Blu-ray discs and will be released in December.

Better Call Saul: The Complete Series

According to Amazon, the complete series box set will hit shelves on Dec. 6. You can pre-order the Blu-ray set at Best Buy and Amazon, but if you want to save on shipping, Amazon Prime members get free shipping on millions of items. Seasons 1-5 are available on Blu-ray and DVD at Walmart and other major retailers.

Read on for all of the ways to binge every season of Better Call Saul online.

How to Watch Better Call Saul Online

New episodes of Better Call Saul used to air on AMC and were available to stream on AMC+. Although the series ended in August, the finale will be available on AMC.com until Tuesday (Sept. 13), but you’ll need a cable or streaming provider log-in to access episodes. You can stream the entire series with a subscription to AMC+ ($8.99 a month after a 7-day free trial).

Amazon Prime members can subscribe to AMC+ through Prime Video and enjoy the first week free. Episodes and full seasons of Better Call Saul are also available for purchase on Prime Video, Vudu, Google Play and Apple TV.

The first five seasons of Better Call Saul are currently streaming on Netflix, and you may be able to find select episodes on platforms such as Fubo TV, SlingTV, and the Roku Channel.

Speaking to Variety last month, Odenkirk opened up about screening the finale episode with some of his colleagues. “There were just a lot of feelings in that room,” he recalled. “Six years of the show, for all of us the biggest show in our lives. You knew the risks that [series creators] Vince [Gilligan] and Peter [Goud] took in giving us these great parts.”

Romeo Santos’ ‘Formula, Vol. 3’ Lands at No. 1 on Tropical Albums Chart

Romeo Santos is back at No. 1 on Billboard’s Tropical Albums chart as his latest LP, Fórmula, Vol. 3, tops the Sept. 17-dated ranking — rising from its No. 8 debut a week earlier from less than one day of activity. It’s his sixth straight No. 1 on the chart.

The album was released Sept. 1 at 11 p.m. ET via Sony Music Latin, — one hour before most albums are typically released. (The Sept. 17-dated chart reflects activity for the album in the Sept. 2-8 tracking period, while the Sept. 10 chart covered the Aug. 25-Sept. 1 frame.)

Fórmula, Vol. 3 rallies 8-1 in its second chart week with 26,000 equivalent album units earned in the U.S. in the week ending Sept. 8, according to Luminate. The majority of the set’s sum derives from streaming-equivalent album units (23,000), equating 33.1 million official on-demand streams of the album’s songs. Three-thousand of the remaining total belongs to traditional album sales (2,000) and track-equivalent album units (1,000).

On the multimetric Tropical Albums chart as measured in equivalent album units, each unit equals one album sale, or 10 individual tracks sold from an album, or 3,750 ad-supported or 1,250 paid/subscription on-demand official audio and video streams generated by songs from an album.

Fórmula, Vol. 3 completes the Fórmula trilogy and lands slightly a decade after its maiden effort, Fórmula, Vol. 1, rose to No. 1 in its second week, where it held for 33 weeks (starting Nov. 26, 2011). Meanwhile, follow-up full-length Vol. 2 lifted 7-1 also in its second week to crown Tropical Albums for 116 weeks, the second-most (trailing Santos’ own Todavía Me Amas: Los Mejor de Aventura; 170 at No. 1) since the chart’s inception in 1985.

Further, Santos replaces himself at No. 1, sending Vol. 2 to No. 3, while Todavía Me Amas holds in the runner-up slot. Plus, the complete Fórmula series holds a spot in the chart’s top five, with Vol. 1 jumping 5-4 on the current chart.

 Vol. 3 gives Santos his sixth straight No. 1 on Tropical Albums. He ties with India and Prince Royce for the fourth-most among tropical soloists. Here’s the scoreboard:

12, Gilberto Santa Rosa
12, Victor Manuelle
9, Marc Anthony
6, India
6, Prince Royce
6, Romeo Santos
5, Eddie Santiago
5, Elvis Crespo
5, Jerry Rivera

Elsewhere, Fórmula, Vol. 3 debuts at No. 2 on the overall Top Latin Albums ranking, his sixth consecutive top 10 there. It’s his first chart appearance since Utopía launched at No. 1 in 2019.

It also opens at No. 10 on the overall Billboard 200, his fourth top 10 there and first top-tier visit since 2017 (Golden, No. 10 debut and peak).

As Vol. 3 arrives, four of the album’s tracks debut on the all-metric Hot Latin Songs chart, starting with “Sin Fin,” with Justin Timberlake, at No. 15; “El Pañuelo,” with Rosalía, at No. 24; “Bebo” at No. 41; and “Me Extraño,” with Christian Nodal, at No. 46.

“Sin Fin” also bows atop the all-genre Latin Airplay chart with 10.1 million in audience impressions earned in the U.S. in the week ending Sept. 11. The track dethrones Becky G’s “Bailé Con Mi Ex” and sends it to No. 11 after its one-week reign.

“Sin Fin” gifts Santos his 21st No. 1 on Latin Airplay. He extends his record for the most No. 1s among tropical artists and ties with Maluma for the seventh-most among all acts. Here’s the recap:

35, J Balvin
32, Enrique Iglesias
28, Ozuna
27, Daddy Yankee
22, Wisin
21, Maluma
21 Romeo Santos

Meanwhile, Timberlake banks his first Latin Airplay No. 1 through his fourth chart visit. He last appeared on the chart with the No. 36-peaking “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” in July 2017.

“Sin Fin” concurrently debuts at No. 1 on Tropical Airplay. While Santos captures his 17th No. 1, Timberlake adds a new chapter to his Billboard chart career, scoring his first leader there.