Kylie and Robbie help EMI to leap above Sony

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The Independent Online

EMI, the music company that is home to Robbie Williams and Kylie Minogue, has enjoyed a rebound in fortunes while its rival, Universal Music, saw its market share plummet over 2003.

Market share data, published by the International Federation of Phonographic Industries, shows that EMI is now the second largest music company in the world, behind Universal. It overtakes Sony, which saw a drop in its market share to 13.2 per cent from 13.8 per cent.

EMI now has a 13.4 per cent share of the world market, with the biggest increase coming in the US where British music artists have often struggled to succeed. Norah Jones, whose album Come Away With Me sold 10.5 million copies last year, has contributed to the largest gains for EMI in the US, along with Joss Stone, the Beatles and Coldplay. The company has struggled against competition from pirate downloads and recently made 1,500 people redundant in a bid to cut costs.

Universal saw its market share decline nearly 2 percentage points to 23.5 per cent. It blamed the decline on the lack of new releases from its main US stars, such as Eminem and Shania Twain who released best-selling albums in 2002 but did not deliver much new material in 2003. It said its UK business was having a very strong year, however. Four of its artists - Snow Patrol, Jamie Cullum, Keane and Scissor Sisters - have already had platinum albums, selling more than 300,000 copies.

But the drop in Universal's share means that a combined Sony and BMG, which announced intentions to merge in December, is now larger than Universal. Together they would control 25.1 per cent of the world music market, compared with 23.5 per cent for Universal.

This will put pressure on European competition regulators who are weighing up whether to allow the merger to go ahead. Sony and BMG made representations this week to the European Commission in a two-day closed hearing which heard evidence from rival companies opposing the merger on the grounds that the combined company would have too much pricing power.

The Commission will give its final ruling on the merger by 22 July, but the two companies will learn within the next week whether there are still objections to the deal.