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Even With No Merger, BMG Tops Pop Charts

October 15, 2003|Jeff Leeds | Times Staff Writer

With its merger plans fizzling, Bertelsmann Music Group may be stuck in place as the smallest player in the global music industry. But the company is looming unusually large on the charts.

BMG, owned by German media conglomerate Bertelsmann, is expected to capture as many as four of the top five spots on the U.S. pop chart this week amid an early holiday season surge. Even industry rivals say the company is poised to dominate the next several weeks with albums still to come from such stars as Alicia Keys, Britney Spears and Sarah McLachlan.

"We're not focused on whether we should be merging," BMG Chief Operating Officer Michael Smellie said in an interview Tuesday. "We're focused on having the very best creative people, giving them the freedom to operate.... That's what we do every single day."

The strong performance comes as prospects for a potential merger of BMG and AOL Time Warner Inc.'s recorded-music operations appear to have faded. AOL has turned its attention to British rival EMI Group and other suitors, potentially leaving the German conglomerate without a partner in the next round of industry consolidation.

BMG posted an estimated operating loss of $127 million for the first half of the year, though it projects a profit for the full year.

And BMG's top executives suggested Tuesday that the recent success of the company's Arista, RCA/J and Jive Records labels suggested that they may survive on their own. RCA/J is likely to grab a top position next week with the debut album from "American Idol" runner-up Clay Aiken. Arista owned the No. 1 spot on the Billboard chart for two straight weeks with Outkast's "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below" double-CD, which will have sold more than 900,000 copies since its release when weekly Nielsen Soundscan data are released today.

"All we have planned and predicted is delivering," BMG Chairman Rolf Schmidt-Holtz said.

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