Jackson death triggers billion dollar bonanza

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The Independent Culture

Soaring music sales, a blockbuster movie and an array of commercial spin-offs: Michael Jackson's demise has lent weight to the wry showbusiness maxim that death is the ultimate career move.

In the final years of his life, Jackson's finances were widely reported to be in chaos, with the singer facing foreclosure on his famed Neverland Ranch and struggling with debts of roughly 500 million dollars

However in the 12 months since Jackson's death on June 25 last year, the King of Pop's empire has witnessed a money-spinning resurgence, generating revenues estimated at more than one billion dollars, according to one report.

Jackson's estate has paid off more than half of the singer's debts and is likely to put his affairs back into the black in the coming year.

The financial bonanza began almost immediately, with the singer selling nearly four million records in the six weeks after his death, with no fewer than six Jackson albums in the top 20 at one stage.

By June 2010, total album sales had swollen to nine million in the United States alone according to figures from Nielsen SoundScan. Internationally, Jackson has sold 24 million albums.

Factor in digital downloads - estimated at 26.5 million worldwide - as well as downloads of ringtones, and the Jackson estate has raked in around 429 million dollars from music sales alone, according to Billboard magazine.

The astonishing success of Jackson's music is reflected in the fact that the singer now accounts for nine of the 17 best-selling R&B hits in digital history, including "Thriller," "Billie Jean" and "Beat It."

Jackson's death has also been no impediment to his recording career. In March, the administrators of his estate, John Branca and John McClain inked a deal with Sony Music Entertainment believed to be one of the biggest ever.

The recording contract will see the release of 10 albums over seven years until 2017 in a deal worth expected to guarantee the Jackson estate as much as 250 million dollars.

The albums will range from a collection of previously unreleased tracks to re-releases of 1979's "Off the Wall."

The deal allows Sony and the estate to work together on licensing arrangements for films, television and stage shows using Jackson's music.

Branca said administrators are using Elvis Presley's posthumous empire as a template for how to manage Jackson's legacy.

"To this day there's interest in Elvis. And I think there will be enduring interest in Michael," Branca said when the Sony deal was signed. "It's our job to continue to expose Michael to new generations."

The blanket worldwide publicity given to Jackson's death has undoubtedly played a part in helping the singer find new audiences.

A movie - "This Is It" - made from rehearsal footage of the singer's concert comeback became a hit last year, earning more than 260 million dollars worldwide at the box office and an additional 68 million in DVD sales and rentals, according to numbers reported by Billboard.

A further 15 million dollars is expected from the sale of television rights to the film while licensing for screenings outside theaters - airplanes, hotels, cruise ships - could net around roughly 24 million dollars.

Branca and McClain have also given their blessing to a groundbreaking Guitar Hero-style video game from manufacturers Ubisoft, where gamers get points for emulating Jackson's signature moonwalk and other dance steps.

Meanwhile the world famous Cirque du Soleil is planning a series of shows next year inspired by Michael Jackson's music and dance work.

The tour of specially themed shows will kick off late in 2011 with an extended run in Las Vegas and by late 2012 the Montreal-based contemporary circus troupe aims to have established a permanent performance there.

Jackson's estate owns 50 percent of each project and will receive royalty payments for the intellectual property used in the shows.

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