Michael Jackson's wealth soars after death

Backup dancers for late pop star Michael Jackson perform for the presentation of the game "Michael Jackson".
Backup dancers for late pop star Michael Jackson perform for the presentation of the game "Michael Jackson".

Michael Jackson's estate has generated at least US$1 billion ($1.4 billion) in revenues since the singer died a year ago, thanks in part to a lucrative new record deal with Sony Music and the most successful concert film of all time, according to Billboard estimates.

Jackson's finances were reportedly in disarray before his death, with his outgoings exceeding his income by an estimated US$20 million to US$30 million a year.

Through interviews with industry experts and some number-crunching, Billboard examines the various music-based revenue streams flowing into the estate.


Since his death on June 25 last year, Jackson has sold about 9 million albums in the United States, while the Jackson 5 and the Jacksons have sold about 800,000 units, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Outside the States, Jackson's album sales for the past year stand at around 24 million units.

Based on a blended worldwide retail sales price of US$11.62 (US$12.30 per unit less mechanical royalties), Billboard estimates that Jackson's album catalogue generated about US$383 million in sales.

On the digital side, Jackson's songs have generated 12.9 million track downloads in the United States in the past 12 months, according to SoundScan. Based on those figures, Billboard estimates that the total number of worldwide downloads is about 26.5 million units, with a value of US$34 million (net of mechanical royalties).

Jackson's ringtone sales totaled 1.5 million last year in the States, with the bulk coming after his death. Digital ringtones sales worldwide are about twice that stateside, which brings Jackson's global ringtone tally to 3 million. At US$2 per unit, ringtone revenue was about US$5 million last year (net of mechanical royalties).

Monies generated from subscription services and digital performance royalties typically amount to about one-third that of mobile revenue, so Jackson's catalogue probably generated about US$2 million from those streams.

U.S. digital performance royalties represent about 13 percent of the revenue generated by single track downloads. Applying that rate to global track sales, Jackson's recording catalogue generated another US$4.5 million from global digital performances.


Sony Pictures bought Jackson's rehearsal footage from AEG for US$60 million. In retrospect, the price was something of a bargain. "Michael Jackson: This Is It" was released October 28, 2009, and earned US$72 million at the U.S. box office, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com, making it the highest-grossing concert film in history.

Overseas, the film earned US$188 million at the box office; of that, US$56 million was tallied in Japan alone. After AEG recouped the company's investment of more than US$35 million in the canceled shows at London's O2 and the film, the bulk of the theatrical take - court documents indicate it could be as high as 90 percent - went to Jackson's estate.

On the home video front, the "This Is It" DVD has earned US$43 million in U.S. sales, with 2.7 million units sold since its January 26 release, according to The-Numbers.com, a division of Nash Information Services. Nash estimates the film made another US$25 million in rental revenue.

In Japan - where the film was also sold as part of a special "This Is It" bundle for the PlayStation 3 -- DVD sales topped US$18 million on its first day of release; 351,000 Blu-ray copies have been sold, according to rankings service Oricon, adding about US$7 million to the total.

In terms of TV, the industry standard is that exclusive rights for ad-supported TV costs 12 percent of the domestic box office for a four-year window; this rule of thumb is in flux, however, as the length of exclusive windows extend and the number of outlets involved in the deals increase.

In November 2009, Viacom purchased the exclusive U.S. TV rights to air "This Is It" on its MTV and BET family of networks - including VH1 and Palladia, as well as MTV and BET - for six years. Given the additional years in the contract and the film's box-office tally, the deal could be worth upwards of US$15 million. (By contrast, FX is reported to have paid between US$25 million and US$30 million for just the U.S. commercial TV rights to "Avatar.")

With its family-friendly rating, "This Is It" can be shown in all distribution media outside of traditional theaters, including airplanes, cruise ships and hotel chains. Licensing fees for nontheatrical performances vary based on the movie and its potential reach and how long it will air after it debuts in theaters, but it's generally forecast to be about 7 percent of total revenue for a film. For "This Is It," that puts the number at US$24 million.


Jackson's music publishing company, Mijac, is administered by Warner/Chappell. Based on a reported value for Mijac of at least US$75 million in 2005, Billboard estimates Mijac currently has a value of around US$150 million. At that value, it generates about US$25 million per year in revenue. In the last 12 months, according to sources, that number could have doubled to as much as US$50 million.

Jackson also owns half of Sony/ATV, formed in 1995 when Sony paid Jackson US$90 million for 50 percent of ATV Music Publishing. Barry Massarsky of Massarsky Consulting says that Sony/ATV is comparable to BMG Music Publishing two years ago when Universal Music Group acquired it for US$2 billion. Massarsky estimates Sony/ATV is worth about 80 percent of BMG at the time of acquisition, or US$1.6 billion. Jackson's share is half that, or US$800 million. Based on a multiple of eight to 10 times net publisher's share, Jackson's share of the company's revenue is US$80 million per year.


Despite being canceled, the 50-show This Is It tour at London's O2 paid big dividends. Revenue from tickets retained by fans as souvenirs and not refunded brought in an estimated US$6.5 million, and Bravado's This Is It concert merchandise brought in US$5 million, both less AEG's share.

An AEG-produced Jackson memorabilia exhibit is showing in Japan and has brought in another estimated US$3.5 million to the estate. Plans call for the exhibit to head to China.

Last August, Bravado followed its AEG/This Is It merch deal with a new pact with the Jackson estate that included a US$10 million advance, sources say.

Based on conversations with insiders, Billboard estimates licensing royalties and retail sales accounted for another US$10 million in revenue to the Jackson estate. Actual retail sales were far greater.

This week, gaming company Ubisoft announced it will release a dance-oriented Jackson videogame in time for the holiday season. Licensing fees weren't disclosed.

Finally, sources say there wasn't any advance on royalties and no guarantees paid for the estate's two-pronged deal with Cirque du Soleil for a tour and a Las Vegas residency, a deal structure in line with past Cirque tributes to the Beatles and Elvis Presley. After startup costs are shared by the estate and Cirque, revenue will come from box-office receipts and other ancillaries associated with the projects.

The financial tragedy here is what might have been. Billboard reported before Jackson's death that the O2 shows would gross up to US$100 million and merch possibly another US$15 million. Beyond that, AEG had a 36-month global touring plan in place with Jackson had the run successfully been completed.


In March, Sony Music Entertainment reached a deal with Jackson's estate to release 10 albums of the singer's music through 2017. The albums' content will vary -- a collection of previously unreleased tracks is expected in November and a reissue of 1979's "Off the Wall" is expected next year. All told, the estate is guaranteed between US$200 million and US$250 million for the deal. Some of that amount was likely paid in an advance. No albums have yet been released, however. If just one of the contract's eight years is recognised, that would add US$31 million to the money the estate received in the last 12 months.

At the time of the deal, John Branca, who serves as special administrator for the estate alongside John McClain, said that Elvis is the model for Jackson's legacy. "To this day, there's interest in Elvis," he said. "And I think there will be enduring interest in Michael. It's our job to continue to expose Michael to new generations."