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US Department Of Justice green lights Liberty Media’s iHeart stock ambitions

By | Published on Monday 20 July 2020


The US Department Of Justice last week gave the go ahead for Liberty Media to increase its stake in American radio giant iHeartMedia.

According to Politico, competition law officials at the DoJ have said that Liberty can push its stake in iHeart up to 50% – it currently has a 5% shareholding.

Liberty Media has shown an active interest in taking a significant slice or even full control of iHeart for a while now, including while the broadcaster was working its way through bankruptcy.

Doing so creates potential competition law concerns because Liberty Media already has a controlling 72% stake in US satellite broadcaster SiriusXM, which in turn owns personalised radio service Pandora outright.

iHeart is the biggest AM/FM radio station operator in the US, as well as owning Pandora rival iHeartRadio. And both radio firms have big ambitions in the podcasting and online advertising domain.

From a music perspective, there’s another element too, in that Liberty also owns 33% of Live Nation, ie the biggest live music, ticketing and artist management company in the world. And also a company that began life as the live entertainment division of a media group called Clear Channel that subsequently rebranded as, erm, iHeartMedia. Good times.

Of course, even if Liberty Media was the biggest single shareholder in SiriusXM, Live Nation and iHeart, that doesn’t mean that those companies wouldn’t continue to operate pretty autonomously from each other. However, plenty of people worry about the increasingly dominant role Liberty Media and its founder John Malone have in the US media and entertainment industries.

That includes the Artist Rights Alliance, which earlier this year urged the DoJ to block any bid by Liberty to acquire more iHeart stock, co-signing a letter that stated: “With just its current holdings, including Pandora and SiriusXM and a major stake in Ticketmaster/LiveNation, Liberty Media already has far too much control over the music ecosystem”.

“With artists, performers, and consumers already facing unprecedented uncertainty and risk”, it went on, “[the] DoJ should put the brakes on this dangerous threat to creative livelihoods and consumer options”.