February 20, 2012 / 11:54 AM / 6 years ago

Universal seeks EU okay for EMI buy

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - French media group Vivendi’s (VIV.PA) Universal Music is seeking EU regulatory approval to buy British record label EMI’s recorded music unit for $1.9 billion to boost its worldwide market share, the European Commission said on its website on Monday.

The deal will likely face intense regulatory scrutiny because of Universal’s worldwide market share in recorded music.

The company told investors in November its global market share came to 26.5 percent. A combined company would control more than 50 percent of the market in some European countries.

The Commission, the EU’s executive, said it would decide by March 23 whether to clear the deal. Universal notified the EU competition regulator last Friday.

Impala, the trade organization that represents Europe’s independent music companies, has called on regulators to block the deal, saying it would reduce the number of competitors and give the combined entity greater control of the online market.

Universal is expected to argue that a combined entity would not raise prices because of competition from the growing digital market and from rivals such as independent record labels and Warner Music Group.

Impala successfully challenged the 2004 merger of Sony and Bertelsmann’s BMG which was approved by the Commission.

But Europe’s second-highest court then blocked the deal, criticizing the Commission for not providing a clear explanation for its decision. EU regulators eventually cleared the deal in 2007.

Citigroup Inc (C.N), which wants to sell EMI to Universal, acquired EMI after its previous owner, Guy Hands’ buyout firm Terra Firma, defaulted on loans owed to the investment bank.

U.S. regulators are also reviewing the deal.

Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Sebastian Moffett

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