After a fast courtship, outgoing YouTube head of business Robert Kyncl has been named CEO of Warner Music Group and will replace Steve Cooper when he steps down next year.
Kyncl brings deep music industry experience to the job: YouTube is both the world’s largest video-streaming platform and the largest music-streaming platform, and he played a huge role in its negotiations with labels and publishers and generally received high marks (remarkably, considering the often-contentious relations between the two sides). He’s also pioneering force in the streaming business: Before he was chief business officer of YouTube, he led Netflix from DVDs to digital.
While many had assumed that the role might not seem large enough for Kyncl after his outsized roles at YouTube and Netflix, there are many reasons why the move could appeal to Kyncl, who clearly enjoys a challenge. Most obviously, as a rare tech leader crossing into music (as opposed to vice-versa), he has a unique perspective and could bring ideas for synergy with enormous potential impact on both businesses. And although Warner seems indefinitely locked in the No. 3 position behind the much larger Universal and Sony, people love an underdog that punches above its weight. With a vast catalog and a current roster that includes Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, Dua Lipa, Lizzo and many others — and the heft of Warner’s Atlantic Records, the most consistently successful label in the business over the past two decades — Kyncl might find it fun to give the leaders a run for their money. Speaking of which — although Warner went public two years ago, it remains controlled by Access Industries and billionaire Len Blavatnik, who could presumably make an attractive offer.
Warner is the third-largest major music group, after Universal and Sony, Warner Music-owned labels include Atlantic — which is the most consistently successful major label in the business — Elektra and its flagship Warner Records, along with the third-largest music publisher, Warner Chappell Music. Its top current acts include Ed Sheeran, Lizzo, Dua Lipa and others.
Cooper has run the company with a firm, calm and non-flamboyant hand through the first decade of the streaming era and as it went public for a second time in the early months of the pandemic in 2020. The company’s earnings were declining at the time of his arrival and he not only reversed that trend but doubled its revenue and embraced new technologies — often before Warner’s competitors — and business opportunities. However, Kyncl will face headwinds as the company’s stock has dipped since it went public, and the industry faces a leveling-off of streaming growth amid an uncertain larger economic climate.
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