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The show goes on(line): Concerts get creative amid global shutdown

In a matter of weeks, the global live music industry has come to a virtual standstill, with shows called off and fans forced inside by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

But while ‘normal’ concerts are off the cards, a wave of virtual events are springing up to take their place, taking advantage of social media, virtual reality and online worlds to bring fans closer to artists at a time when both concert performer and concertgoer are stuck indoors.

Sweet streams
By far the most popular way of connecting with housebound fans, many of the world’s biggest artists, including Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Pink, John Legend, country singer Keith Urban and Latin star Juanes have streamed live performances on their social media accounts in recent days.

Others, such as Miley Cyrus, Christine and the Queens and Lizzo, are broadcasting largely non-musical content that offering a glimpse into their self-isolating lives, while likes of Bruce Springsteen are making past concerts available for free. UK singer Yungblud, meanwhile, took the opportunity to create The Yungblud Show Live, an anarchic hour-long show (featuring a concert segment, drinking games and a cooking lesson) filmed in LA following the postponement of his upcoming tour.

In the classical music world, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra has made its ‘digital concert hall’ video streaming service, featuring over 600 concerts spanning more than a decade, free to all before 31 March.

“We already miss our public very much and hope that in this way we can remain in contact with our audience, at least virtually,” says Olaf Maninger, the orchestra’s principal cellist.

Elsewhere, in Europe’s clubbing capital, promoters have gone one step further by creating a 24-hour ‘virtual club’, dubbed United We Stream, in order to “save Berlin’s club culture in quarantine”. (The German capital’s nightlife been on lockdown since Friday 13 March.)

Launching today (18 March) at 7pm local time, the initiative will see the empty clubs streaming several hours of DJ sets and live performances every day, with the venue changing each night. Participating clubs include the Watergate (which will host tonight’s first show, with Claptone, Monika Kruse and Mathew Jonson), Tresor, Kater Blau, Salon Zur Wilden Renate and Sisyphos.

Fans are encouraged to donate €10, €20 or €30 a month in exchange for a ‘virtual club ticket’, with all funds going directly to a relief fund to support clubs and event organisers during the closure.

“We already miss our public very much”

Faces for radio
Miami’s Ultra Music Festival (UMF) was the first major western festival to fall victim to the coronavirus, having been pulled by city councillors just over two weeks out, on 4 March.

Now reborn as a ‘virtual audio festival’ on US satellite/internet radio platform SiriusXM, Ultra will take the form of an audio-only event, running from Friday 20 to Monday 23 March (its original dates) and featuring live performances by DJs scheduled to perform at Ultra Miami, including Afrojack, Major Lazer, Martin Garrix, Above and Beyond, Armin van Buuren, Nicky Romero and Oliver Heldens.

Ultra Virtual Audio Festival will be broadcast on a temporary SiriusXM channel, UMF Radio (channel 52), which will also air previous Ultra sets by stars such as Marshmello, the Chainsmokers, Kygo and Carl Cox.

Scott Greenstein, president and chief content officer of SiriusXM, says: “With the postponement of beloved events, necessary changes in people’s everyday life and need for social distancing, we know our listeners are seeking a sense of community more than ever.

“To encourage that, we are pleased to be working with Ultra Music Festival to provide our listeners with this virtual audio festival featuring the diverse line-up of artists the UMF delivers year after year, as well as exclusive fresh, new sets from some of the biggest names in dance music.”

UMF 2020 ticket holders will receive an email in the coming days offering access to UMF Radio and other SiriusXM programming.

In the UK, meanwhile, the cancelled Country to Country (C2C) festival – due to take place on 13–15 March at the O2 in London – was replaced a special show on BBC Radio 2, which was originally to have broadcast from the event.

Radio 2’s Country Festival, presented by ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris, Bobbie Pryor and the Shires’ Ben Earle, featured live performances from artists scheduled to play C2C, including Luke Combs, Eric Church, Darius Rucker, the Cadillac Three, Old Crow Medicine Show, Brett Young and Tenille Townes.

“We know our listeners are seeking a sense of community more than ever”

Game on
Passing the time while ill by playing video games is nothing new, but the current period of self-isolation will be the first time many experience a live event inside a virtual world. Marshmello’s groundbreaking Fortnite concert last year opened the floodgates opened for live music in gaming, with rock bands Korn (in AdventureQuest) and the Offspring (in World of Tanks), DJs Ekali (in Minecraft), Reggie Watts and Blasterjaxx and EDM label Monstercat (in Sansar) among those to have organised large virtual concerts since.

Mojang’s Minecraft – the open-ended world-builder which, with nearly half a billion players, is arguably the biggest game in the world today – is no stranger to hosting music events, holding its first live concert, with AlunaGeorge, Broiler and Lemaitre, in March 2016. It also hosted Fire Festival, with Ekali, Arty, Hudson Mohawke, Luca Lush and over 5,000 ‘festivalgoers’, early last year, with another 80,000 tuning in via live stream.

Upcoming live entertainment in Minecraft includes Second Sky-inspired music festival Second Aether, which will take place on 28 and 29 March, and an as-yet-unnamed festival set to take place at Club Matryoshka (a virtual nightclub hosted on a private Minecraft server) on 26 April.

https://twitter.com/ClubMatryoshka/status/1237750285428121600

Sansar, a virtual-reality online world from Linden Lab, the maker of Second Life, also plans to host several virtual live events in the months ahead. Sansar – which has partnerships with Monstercat, Spinnin’ Records and Roddenberry Entertainment (Star Trek), among others – yesterday (17 March) released a guide to creating an event inside the game, touting its credentials as a platform for “free virtual events amid [the] coronavirus emergency”.

“Sansar is no stranger to large-scale live events, and we’re here to help you and your audiences stay safe, productive and connected during the coronavirus outbreak,” says Sansar community manager Galileo Linden, noting that the game can accomodate “a conference for work, an educational workshop, a live performance or even a music festival”.

“We’re here to help you and your audiences stay safe, productive and connected during the coronavirus outbreak”

Reality check
Amid the gloom on global stock markets, MelodyVR maker EVR Holdings was one of few shares not in the red on the London Stock Exchange (LSE) today, its value surging with growing demand for concerts on virtual-reality headsets, according to the London Evening Standard.

In its Covid-19 update to the LSE, EVR says it has has seen a 56% spike in sales for MelodyVR over the past week as most major concerts were cancelled. “MelodyVR’s technology was originally created to enhance the live experience for music fans around the world who were unable to access performances either as a result of their location, age, cost of attendance or ticket availability,” the company explains.

“The restriction of both mass gatherings of the general public and international travel has already begun to adversely impact the global music industry, and while our vision was never to act as a replacement to live events, we believe that our technology affords fans the closest possible opportunity of experiencing the next best thing to actually being at a venue or show without physically being present.

“We have not sought to actively capitalise on the events of the last few weeks, yet having experienced a 56% increase in average sales over the course of the last seven days we anticipate this trend of MelodyVR platform usage to continue.”

Also having a good day is popular rhythm game Beat Saber, which announced today it has sold more than two million copies, cementing its reign as the best-selling virtual reality-exclusive title. “[T]he game has also proven to be a successful platform for artists to connect with fans, selling over 10 million songs through downloadable content,” reads an announcement on the Oculus blog.

 


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SiriusXM’s Pandora partners with Ticketmaster

Pandora, the streaming service owned by Liberty Media’s SiriusXM, has announced a new partnership with ticketing giant Ticketmaster.

Pandora sold ticketing business Ticketfly to Eventbrite in June 2017, prior to its US$3.5 billion acquisition by SiriusXM. Liberty Media, whose chief executive Greg Maffei is Live Nation’s chairman, owns a 71% share in SiriusXM and a 34% in Ticketmaster owner Live Nation.

Ticketmaster has now been integrated into Pandora’s AMP platform for artists, which enables the promotion live events alongside music streaming. The platform will use Ticketmaster’s concert data to provide more accurate and up-to-date information on live events.

“In our ongoing effort to provide a comprehensive and seamless artist marketing experience, Pandora has partnered with Ticketmaster to transform live event promotion,” says a Pandora statement.

“Powered by touring data pulled in real-time from Ticketmaster, this new partnership makes communicating with fans about live events easier than ever before”

“Powered by touring data pulled in real-time from Ticketmaster, this new partnership makes communicating with fans about live events easier than ever before. Fans will now be notified of upcoming show announces and on-sale ticket alerts based on their location and listener history,” reads the statement.

According to Pandora, listeners have already clicked on links to Ticketmaster events over 700,000 times following the integration.

The integration of ticketing platforms into live-focused streaming platform features was discussed at the streaming workshop at ILMC 31. Streaming giant Spotify uses ticketing partners Ticketmaster, Songkick, Eventbrite and AXS to promote events.

Ticketmaster has also integrated with YouTube in the United States, using the platform’s geolocations to target nearby and relevant shows to listeners.

 


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Pandora and Live Nation ‘brought together’ by SiriusXM deal

SiriusXM has created the “world’s largest audio entertainment company” by acquiring internet radio/streaming service Pandora Media, the US satellite radio giant said today, in news that is likely to reignite speculation about a potential merger with Live Nation.

The acquisition – an all-stock deal worth US$3.5bn – will “capitalise on cross-promotion opportunities between SiriusXM’s base of more than 36m subscribers across North America and 23m-plus annual trial listeners and Pandora’s more than 70m monthly active users” – the largest digital audio audience in the US, according to a joint statement.  The new company expects to turn over more than $7bn in 2018, with “strong, long-term growth opportunities” predicted for the years ahead.

SiriusXM originally invested $480m in loss-making Pandora last June, concurrent with the company offloading Ticketfly to Eventbrite in a return to its “core priorities”.

Commenting on the merger, Jim Meyer, CEO of SiriusXM, says: “We have long respected Pandora and their team for their popular consumer offering that has attracted a massive audience, and have been impressed by Pandora’s strategic progress and stronger execution. We believe there are significant opportunities to create value for both companies’ stockholders by combining our complementary businesses.

“There are significant opportunities to create value for both companies’ stockholders by combining our complementary businesses”

“The addition of Pandora diversifies SiriusXM’s revenue streams with the US’s largest ad-supported audio offering, broadens our technical capabilities and represents an exciting next step in our efforts to expand our reach out of the car even further. Through targeted investments, we see significant opportunities to drive innovation that will accelerate growth beyond what would be available to the separate companies, and does so in a way that also benefits consumers, artists and the broader content communities.

“Together, we will deliver even more of the best content on radio to our passionate and loyal listeners, and attract new listeners, across our two platforms.”

SiriusXM – 71% owned by Liberty Media Corporation – has long been the subject of rumours it could take over, or merge with, Live Nation, in which Liberty holds a 34% stake. Greg Maffei, CEO of Liberty Media, said in said in May that the company may look at “ways to have them [SiriusXM and Live Nation] work together”, and many analysts espoused the potential benefits of a Live Nation/Ticketmaster–SiriusXM merger, which Citigroup’s Jason Bazinet says would create a “vertically integrated music titan”.

Brandon Ross, of BTIG Research – who said as long ago as June 2016 that Live Nation, SiriusXM and Pandora “could act as a powerful end-to-end music distribution platform from live music to streaming music and radio” – suggested in July that an acquisition of Live Nation by SiriusXM in on the cards. SiriusXM’s CFO, David Grear, however, soon poured cold water on the rumours, saying he’s “not certain they have much to do with reality”.

“This could be anti-competitive in the concert industry – or not”

In an investor call yesterday, Ross was again banging the drum for a SiriusXM–Live Nation merger, asking Meyer (pictured) whether “Live Nation together with these assets [SiriusXM and Pandora] makes more sense than what one carries just as a standalone company”, although the CEO declined to comment.

Speaking to Slate, David Lowery, a music business lecturer at the University of Georgia, says he also sees deeper integration for the three brands in future, with today’s deal “effectively bring[ing] these three companies together”.

Lowery – also the founder of alt-rock bands Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker – adds that only time will tell if the acquisition has a significant impact on the live music business. “This could be anti-competitive in the concert industry – or not,” he comments. “For instance, my bands enjoy significant SiriusXM play. Cross-promotion could enhance revenues of many mid-tier artists. But honestly that’s an unknown.”

Following news of the acquisition, Pandora’s shares jumped 8.6% to $9.88, although they have since fallen to $8.98.

 


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LN revenue up 7% in Q2, as SiriusXM rubbishes merger rumours

Live Nation has built “the industry’s most scalable and unparallelled live platform”, said CEO Michael Rapino yesterday, as the concert giant reported another quarter of double-digit income growth.

Live Nation grew turnover 7%, to US$2.9bn, in Q2 2018, with operating income growth again in double digits, increasing 19% to $135 million. Adjusted operating income (AOI, which excludes several expenses, mostly related to stock-based compensation, depreciation and amortisation) was up 18%, to $260m.

“Each of our businesses contributed to these results, all delivering double-digit operating income and AOI growth for the quarter,” Rapino told investors, with concerts up 6% (revenue)/13% (AOI), sponsorship and advertising up 12%/14% and Ticketmaster up 13%/15%.

The positive Q2 results come after SiriusXM CEO Jim Meyer denied reports the US satellite radio giant is preparing for a takeover of Live Nation.

Referring to a report by BTIG Research’s Brandon Ross, in which the analyst suggested a SiriusXM-Live Nation merger is “inevitable”, Meyer said during its Q2 earnings call that “I don’t have any comment on Live Nation. I don’t even know where that speculation is coming from. It’s not coming from SiriusXM.”

While he acknowledged the two companies enjoy “growing and strong cooperation” – SiriusXM parent company Liberty Media owns around a third of Live Nation, and Rapino sits on the company’s board – he rubbished rumours of a merger. “We both use assets we have to improve our businesses, but for me that’s about it,” he said.

“Each of our businesses is contributing to this success”

SiriusXM’s CFO, David Grear, went further, saying when he sees a note like Ross’s, “it’s a bit like going into the supermarket and seeing that Paul is dead, or a Sasquatch has sat down for candid photos or aliens abducted someone’s baby. There’s lots of headlines, but it’s not certain they have much to do with reality.”

Back at Live Nation, Live Nation president Joe Berchtold fielded questions on the recent Ticketmaster hack, telling Goldman Sachs’s Drew Borst the company is working with the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to ensure it meets its obligations under GDPR, while Rapino revealed Ticketmaster has now installed its Presence audio-ticketing system in 125 venues, with another 75 planned for the second half of 2018, “positioning us to have at least 60 million fans using this system next year.”

Rapino also praised the strength of Live Nation’s European festivals, which saw revenue per fan grow 12% in the second quarter.

Twenty-eighteen, he concludes, “is on track for the company to deliver double-digit operating income and AOI growth along with strong gains in revenue, operating cash flow and adjusted free cash flow.

“Each of our businesses is contributing to this success, as we put on more concerts for a greater numbers of fans, continue to monetise fans who come to the shows, sell more tickets to events of all types and further demonstrate the value of over 90 million fans to sponsors.”

 


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Analyst: Live Nation–SiriusXM merger “inevitable”

A merger between Live Nation and Liberty Media’s SiriusXM is inevitable in the near term, a leading Wall Street analyst has suggested.

Earlier this month, Live Nation’s share price climbed above US$50 for the first time, bolstered by rumours the concert giant could be the target of an acquisition by satellite radio provider SiriusXM.

Greg Maffei, CEO of SiriusXM parent company Liberty Media – which owns roughly a third of Live Nation – said in May that the company may look at “ways to have them [SiriusXM and Live Nation] work together”, and analysts have long espoused the potential benefits of a Live Nation/Ticketmaster–SiriusXM merger, which Citigroup’s Jason Bazinet says would create a “vertically integrated music titan”.

Brandon Ross, of BTIG Research – who said as long ago as June 2016 that Live Nation, SiriusXM and Pandora (since partially acquired by Liberty) “could act as a powerful end-to-end music distribution platform from live music to streaming music and radio” – now says an acquisition of Live Nation by SiriusXM in on the cards – if Live Nation’s board agrees to a deal.

BTIG has given Live Nation shares a price target of $60 and upgraded to ‘buy’

“We and a growing group of investors have come to believe a nearer-term combination of SiriusXM and Live Nation is inevitable,” Ross writes. “Or, put another way, that Liberty would like a deal to happen, which likely makes a transaction inevitable.

“A trail of data points has been widely circulated over the past month which give credence to this theory. The most interesting evidence comes from the words of [Liberty Media chairman] John Malone himself, in this excerpt from the 14 June WSJ: ‘There are some synergies amongst companies that we have a stake in that we’re still exploring’ that could lead to deals, Mr Malone said.”

Other indicators suggesting an acquisition is likely, continues Ross, are slowing growth at SiriusXM (SIRI), with a “Sirius acquisition of LYV [helping to] solve Liberty’s problems by helping to (at least optically) protect SIRI’s terminal value”; threat to SiriusXM’s in-car radio business from music streaming services and the “exploding popularity” of podcast apps; the attractiveness of SiriusXM’s free cashflow to Live Nation for further expansion; and the fact Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino was added to the SiriusXM board at the beginning of 2018.

Would Live Nation agree to a deal? Ultimately, reckons Ross, Rapino – who he predicts would become the CEO of the combined company – and Live Nation’s directors will “do what is in the best interest of shareholders”. While, “on a personal level, top management is financially incentivised to sell”, and “sure access to additional cash could expedite” Live Nation’s global ambitions, BTIG says SiriusXM’s cash is “not critical to the company’s long term”.

“We and a growing group of investors have come to believe a nearer-term combination of SiriusXM and Live Nation is inevitable”

To complicate matters, should SiriusXM bid for Live Nation, other bidders will likely emerge, says Ross – with “the most likely, in our view, are Amazon and Spotify”. (Music remains a “top priority for Amazon”, which could also “significantly improve Ticketmaster”, he writes, while Spotify and Live Nation could partner on 360 deals with artists, as well as “advertising and sponsorship packages, leveraging data and Live Nation generating content to catalyse Spotify’s video ambitions”.)

Whether or not a bid materialises, the analyst says Live Nation has a bright future ahead regardless. He predicts the “new normal LYV AOI [adjusted operating income] growth to be mid-teens”, highlighting the continued growth of the live music industry, the company’s effective pricing of its shows (‘slow ticketing’) and the “large international opportunity ahead” as reasons to be optimistic.

BTIG has given Live Nation (LYV) shares a price target of $60 and upgraded them to ‘buy’. The firm also predicts AOI of $851m in 2018, and $975m for 2019, compared to average (‘Street’) expectations of $827m and $912m, respectively.

 


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Live Nation share price breaks $50 mark

The price of a single Live Nation share has risen above US$50 for the first time, amid speculation by Wall Street analysts that the concert giant could be the target of an acquisition by satellite radio provider SiriusXM.

Shares in Live Nation (LYV) have grown at a remarkable rate throughout 2017 and 2018, reaching $40 in August 2017 – just six months after passing the $30 mark – although the price dipped 13% earlier this year after a New York Times article claimed the company was being investigated by the US Department of Justice for alleged anti-competitive behaviour.

It has since rebounded from a six-month low of $36, bolstered by positive indications for 2018, a recent run of acquisitions and the potential for a SiriusXM takeover, suggests Citigroup analyst Jason Bazinet.

According to financial services company the Motley Fool, “the biggest driver of market buzz came from analyst firm Citigroup suggesting that Sirius XM Holdings might want to buy out Live Nation someday soon.”

Combining Live Nation/Ticketmaster and SiriusXM, says Bazinet, would create a “vertically integrated music titan”

SiriusXM parent company Liberty Media – which owns roughly a third of Live Nation – has been vocal about the synergies between combining Live Nation/Ticketmaster and SiriusXM, says Bazinet, which would create a “vertically integrated music titan”.

Additionally, he says, the merger would face fewer regulatory challenges than the joining together of Live Nation and Ticketmaster, as the companies operate in different sectors of the music business.

However, Sebastiano Petti, an analyst at JPMorgan, suggests a deal is unlikely, noting that Liberty has talked about synergies between the companies previously without launching an acquisition bid.

At press time, Live Nation’s share price stood at $49.82.

 


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Pandora sheds Ticketfly in return to “core priorities”

Ending weeks of speculation, Pandora Media has announced the sale of Ticketfly, the ticketing business it acquired for US$450 million in October 2015, as it refocuses its on its core subscription music-streaming service.

The buyer: Eventbrite, which has paid $200m – $150m cash and $50 in a note payable to Pandora – to make Ticketfly its third major acquisition of the year (after Ticketscript in January and US start-up Nvite in April).

Ticketfly grew substantially under Pandora ownership, increasing turnover 25% in Q1 2017 and by the same amount across 2016 as a whole. Its founder and CEO, Andrew Dreskin, will now lead Eventbrite’s music efforts.

“We are happy to be joining forces with our friends at Eventbrite,” he comments. “Ticketfly and Eventbrite are the two most progressive live events technology companies out there, and together we will create a transformational platform that will be game-changing for independent venues and promoters.”

“We plan to build on the great work that Ticketfly and Pandora have done and offer the benefits of that partnership to Eventbrite’s customers”

Dreskin (pictured) says Ticketfly/Eventbrite will continue to work with Pandora to deliver in-app concert recommendations, a feature rolled out in July last year. “We plan to build on the great work that Ticketfly and Pandora have done and offer the benefits of that partnership to Eventbrite’s customers, delivering even more live event notifications to Pandora listeners,” he adds.

The sale of Ticketfly comes as satellite radio service SiriusXM – a division of Liberty Media, which owns a third of Live Nation – invests $480m in Pandora, which has struggled to stem its massive quarter-on-quarter losses ($132.3m in Q1 2017).

Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei, also chairman of the board of Live Nation, says the investment reflects SiriusXM’s desire to move into ad-supported digital radio.

“Liberty Media has long recognised the strength of the Pandora brand and the opportunities in the ad-supported digital radio market,” he says. “We are very supportive of SiriusXM’s strategic investment.”

 


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Liberty Media hails LN results after record Q3

Despite having forked out US$746 million for Formula 1 in September, Liberty Media Corporation posted record turnover of US$1.3 billion in the third quarter (Q3) of 2016.

The radio and mass media group, which owns a 34% stake in Live Nation, recorded a 9% increase in revenue and a 16% climb in net income, to $194m, buoyed by what its president and CEO, Greg Maffei, calls “outstanding results” in Q3 from Live Nation. Speaking to investors, Maffei (pictured) also praised the strong performance of satellite radio group SiriusXM and baseball team Atlanta Braves.

“We were thrilled to announce our planned acquisition of F1, the iconic global motorsports business,” Maffei told investors. “We see tremendous opportunities and are excited for [new F1 chairman] Chase Carey to bring his media and business experience to the sport.

“Live Nation produced outstanding results, with record quarterly growth in operating income and adjusted operating income across each core division”

“SiriusXM again turned in stellar results, now servicing nearly 31 million customers, and also intends to institute a quarterly dividend. Live Nation also produced outstanding results, with record quarterly growth in operating income and adjusted operating income across each core division. The Atlanta Braves dramatically improved on-field performance in the second half of the season, and we look forward to moving to SunTrust Park in 2017.”

It also emerged in Liberty’s earnings call that funding for the remaining cash component of its $1.1bn acquisition of Formula 1 is expected to come partially from a $500m loan with shares of Live Nation and Viacom pledged as collateral.

 


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Live Nation investor Liberty posts Q1 results

Liberty Media Corporation, the John C. Malone-controlled mass media giant which owns significant stakes in Live Nation Entertainment, the Pepsi Center in Denver and the Atlanta Braves baseball team and its stadium, Turner Field, has posted positive first-quarter (Q1) results for 2016.

The Liberty Media Group – one of the three targeted stock groups, which includes Live Nation, created by a recapitalisation on 15 April (the others are the Liberty SiriusXM Group and Liberty Braves Group – reported an increase in operating income of US$507 million to $488m. It should be noted, however, that this growth is “primarily” due to one-time proceeds from the settlement of a lawsuit with Vivendi, which paid the company $775m in February 2016 after a jury ruled that the French company had concealed the state of its finances and artificially inflated the value of its shares.

There were mixed results in the Liberty SiriusXM and Liberty Braves groups. The former, which includes Liberty’s interest in the satellite radio group, posted a 12% revenue increase to $1.2 billion and 16% increase in operating income to $336m, while the latter saw its revenue decrease by $1m to $4m in the first quarter, which Liberty blames on a $11 million increase in player salaries as a result of of a number of injuries and released contracts in Q1.

Live Nation posted its own Q1 results, which were characterised by double-digital revenue growth primarily driven by ticketing, last week.