Queen is finally getting close to selling its catalog, according to sources — and may even already be in an exclusive period with an undisclosed suitor.
The music assets include recorded music, publishing and ancillary income streams, according to sources, who suggest Queen is seeking a $1.2 billion payday. Those ancillary revenue streams include revenue from the 2018 smash film Bohemian Rhapsody, merchandise and other licensing opportunities. The deal may also include royalties from the North America master recordings catalog, which Queen sold to the Disney-owned Hollywood Records at some unknown point since the label began licensing the band’s recordings in the early 1990s.
In the past, Hollywood has maintained that when it acquired Queen’s master recordings it was for life of copyright, which could mean the label has the band’s later albums in the U.S. for a total of 35 years, given that U.S. copyright law allows creators to terminate and reclaim their copyright after that term.
There have been numerous media reports about Queen seeking a record $1 billion catalog sale since the band started shopping it in May 2023 — the first of which by Music Business Worldwide. While many of those stories suggested that Queen was in discussions with Universal Music Group and that Disney, Hollywood’s owner, was also approached, sources say that the band’s music assets were shopped to only a few select suitors because the band members wanted to be comfortable in entrusting stewardship of its catalog. Moreover, because of the price the band is seeking, sources suggest that some of the potential strategic buyers may have partnered with financial institutions to make an offer.
Sources say that each band member — Brian May, Roger Taylor, John Deacon and the estate of the late Freddie Mercury — has his own lawyer involved to collectively shop the deal. Billboard reached out to lawyers who are or were officers for the band’s company, Queen Productions Ltd., as well as Hollywood Records and UMG, all of whom either declined a request for comment or didn’t respond.
The Queen catalog includes iconic hit songs such as “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Killer Queen,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” “Radio Ga Ga,” “Somebody to Love,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “You’re My Best Friend, “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.” Since 1991, the Queen catalog has generated nearly 38 million album consumption units in the U.S.; and has nearly 41.7 billion in global on-demand streams, according to Luminate.
Since late 2018, Queen’s sales and streaming activity has been turbocharged by the Bohemian Rhapsody theatrical film that came out that year.
For perspective, from 1991 to the end of 2017, Queen’s U.S. sales and streaming activity totaled 25.9 million album consumption units, according to Luminate. And in the three years leading up to the Bohemian Rhapsody film’s release, Queen’s annual catalog album consumption averaged about 752,000 units. But then in 2018, with the film’s release that November, the band’s album consumption unit count jumped to 2.074 million. In 2019, its catalog activity exploded to nearly 3.58 million units.
At the end of 2023, Queen’s U.S. album consumption sales activity to date since 1991 totals nearly 37.7 million units, an increase of 45.5% from the 25.9 million in 2017.
According to financial reports from Queen’s shared company, Queen Productions Limited, filed with the United Kingdom’s Companies House agency, the band reported a net profit of 18 million pounds on nearly 41 million pounds in revenue for the year ended Sept. 30, 2022. The company also reported 32.4 million pounds in gross profit and 22.16 million pounds after expenses but before taxes. For the prior fiscal year, the company reported 13.6 million pounds in net profit on revenues of 39.2 million pounds.
Music assets usually trade based on financial models built around an average of the catalog’s performance for the most recent three years. They trade on what’s known as net label share — gross profit after cost of goods but before marketing costs. Or, in the case of publishing, net publishers share — gross profit after paying out royalties.
However, the Bohemian Rhapsody film produced incredible financial rewards, throwing off the kinds of averages commonly used to price these deals. When investors look at music catalogs, they try to eliminate what they consider one-time activity bonanzas like a new boxset coming out; or in the case of Queen, setting aside the sales and streaming activity in the immediate aftermath of the film.
By the time the Queen music assets came to market in May 2023, interested suitors were likely scrutinizing the catalog’s activity from 2020 to 2022, when the band’s music averaged nearly 1.53 million album consumption units a year. That’s more than double the 752,000 album consumption units that the band averaged in the three years before to the film’s release. After discounting 2018 and 2019 as an anomaly, Queen’s camp, however, is likely arguing that the movie has brought Queen to a bigger audience and that success will be sustained. But suitors considering the Queen acquisition nevertheless might be worried that some of that activity might still be from the film’s afterglow. And if so, how much decay might still occur before sales and streaming activity level off and become predictable?
Overall, in 2019 — the year the band’s financials were most impacted by the film — Queen reported 72.8 million pounds in revenue and, after cost of sales, a gross profit of 58.8 million pounds. In the three years prior to the movie being released, from 2016 through 2018, the Queen catalog averaged 17.6 million pounds — due to an atypically low 2016 when revenue was only 12.34 million pounds — while gross profit averaged 13.5 million pounds. From 2020 through 2022, the catalog averaged revenues of 40.7 million pounds, and gross profits of 22.2 million pounds.
It’s likely that the Queen financials don’t include all Queen revenue, as well. For example, while it may include music publishing royalties paid to the band’s publishing company, it likely doesn’t include the individual payouts from global collection societies that are paid directly to writers. With that under consideration, Billboard estimates Queen’s publishing revenue likely totals about $17 million annually, based on the 2020–2022 three years average.
For masters, Billboard estimates — also based on a three-year average — annual global revenue of about $48 million for the Queen catalog. Of that, about $16 million is from North America — where sources say the band receives artist royalties. For the remaining $32 million outside North America, Queen owns its catalog. Figuring Queen takes a quarter of the revenue from North America, and three-quarters elsewhere, the band would earn roughly $28 million annually off recorded music.
In all, that’s about $45 million that Queen earns from recorded and publishing annually, based on estimates.
Sources say Queen’s annual royalties in the deal total about $50 million, which likely also includes royalties from Bohemian Rhapsody DVD and Blu-Ray sales, band merchandise and Queen theatrical productions in the U.K.
Valuing Queen’s publishing catalog at a 25-times multiple would come to about $420 million. The masters and other income streams at a 20 times multiple would bring that valuation to $660 million. And then, adding in other tertiary income streams and then likeness and image rights could get it to $1 billion valuation.
Queen is seeking more than that, though. And the steep $1.2 billion price tag sources suggest could be one of the reasons why the catalog has been in play for so long. Now, though, it seems a deal may finally be close.