PPL CEO Peter Leathem predicts 2021 revenue recovery at PPL Annual General Meeting
Today, at the PPL Annual General Meeting (AGM) held virtually, Peter Leathem, PPL’s Chief Executive Officer, spoke about how PPL continued to deliver a high level of service to its performer and recording rightsholders throughout the pandemic, and looked to the future as the UK prepares to further lift lockdown restrictions. “I am cautiously optimistic about PPL’s UK collections and we expect our revenues will recover this year to beat our 2020 numbers, although they will not yet exceed pre-COVID levels,” he said.
The AGM detailed 2020’s financial results, which can also be found in PPL’s newly-published Annual Review. PPL’s total revenue reached £225.7 million – a 17% decrease on 2019. In 2020 PPL also distributed over £260 million, with over 135,000 performers and recording rightsholders, either as members of PPL, VPL or another collective management organisation, receiving at least one payment – both record figures for a single financial year.
In his speech Leathem highlighted how, by working with its partners around the world, PPL was helping to grow the neighbouring rights industry through projects such as RDx, a data exchange service established by IFPI and WIN. Projects such as this will make the sharing of data and information across the recorded music industry more accurate and efficient, in turn resulting in more accurate and efficient royalty payments.
Finally, one year on from the death of George Floyd and Blackout Tuesday, he re-stated PPL’s commitment to bringing about a more equitable, diverse and inclusive music industry.
“This time last week marked the first anniversary of Blackout Tuesday, a day of collective action to address the issue of racism. For us at PPL, it served as an opportunity to take stock and consider what more we could do to make real and meaningful change. Although equity, diversity and inclusion has long been an important area of focus for PPL, over this past year we have introduced a number of policies and initiatives, which we recognise is only the start of the process, but we are trying to proactively drive change,” he said.
Peter’s full speech can be found at the end of this press release.
During the AGM Director of People and Organisational Development Kate Reilly interviewed Paulette Long OBE, Music Consultant, Board Director and Publisher, who has been working with PPL on its diversity agenda. They spoke about PPL’s work to develop and embed a culture of equity, diversity and inclusion, alongside the music industry’s renewed drive and willingness to change for the better.
Elsewhere the meeting included an address from Chairman John Smith, alongside presentations from Chief Financial Officer Chris Barton, Chief Operating Officer Christine Geissmar and Director of Membership and Communications Sarah Mitchell, with General Counsel and Company Secretary David Harmsworth conducting the formal business. Julian French (Universal Music Group), Nick Hartley ([PIAS]) and Michael Smith (Sony Music Entertainment UK) were re-elected as PPL Board directors.
2021 AGM Speech – Peter Leathem, Chief Executive Officer, PPL
“Good afternoon everyone.
“Firstly, I would like to thank Paulette Long and PPL’s Director of People and Organisational Development, Kate Reilly, for a really fascinating and informative discussion on equity, diversity and inclusion. This is a very important agenda for PPL and everybody at the company, which is why we made it a central part of this year’s AGM.
“I would also like to thank the other presenters for their updates. As you have already heard from them, in 2020 PPL faced a year unlike any other in our long history because of COVID-19. But while the pandemic has temporarily pressed pause on the continuous revenue growth that we have enjoyed over the last two decades, it has given us a renewed sense of purpose as we have looked to support our members and the wider music community through these tough times.
“At the start of the meeting, our Chairman John Smith spoke about PPL last year donating £1.4 million to the numerous industry hardship funds that were set up to help those whose incomes have been severely affected by the pandemic. Our Chief Financial Officer, Chris Barton, set out in detail the impact the pandemic had on PPL’s 2020 revenues. Then our Chief Operating Officer, Christine Geissmar, highlighted the decision of the PPL PRS Ltd joint venture to suspend licensing charges to customers when their businesses had to close during lockdown. And PPL’s Director of Membership and Communications, Sarah Mitchell, covered the range of help we have given to our members, from our industry-leading international collections business to dealing with tens of thousands of individual member contacts.
“All this support underlines the dedication and commitment of the teams at PPL to provide the highest level of service to our performer and recording rightsholder members as well as to our customers. I want to take this opportunity to thank the staff for everything they have done over the past year. I would also like to thank Andrea Gray and her team at PPL PRS Ltd for everything that they have done over the last year in the most difficult of circumstances. It is so much appreciated.
“Although the pandemic had a particularly devastating impact on our public performance revenue, it is pleasing to see that our other revenue streams held up strongly in 2020. Broadcast was only down by a few percent on the previous year thanks to the long-term licences we have in place and during lockdown we were reminded of the still-vital role that radio and TV plays in our lives. Despite many people having prematurely written off these traditional media, millions forced to stay at home turned to their favourite radio stations and TV channels for news, comfort and entertainment.
“Our international figures held up remarkably well as much of the revenue we collected last year related to activity in 2019 or earlier. The £85.7 million we generated internationally was only beaten on an annual basis by the record amount we collected the previous year and this reflected not only the hard work of our teams, but the 105 direct relationships we have with CMOs around the world. Given international is now such a substantial part of our business, it is easy to forget that we only formally moved into this area as recently as 2006 – the year before the release of Adele’s first single – and in the 15 years since have collected more than £500 million in international revenue.
“Looking ahead, we expect our international collections will decline to some extent this year because of the impact of COVID, but the situation will vary from territory to territory depending on what restrictions have been in place, for how long and when they ease.
“With the 21st of June set as the Government’s target date for the lifting of all restrictions in England, I am cautiously optimistic about PPL’s UK collections and we expect our revenues will recover this year to beat our 2020 numbers, although they will not yet exceed pre-COVID levels.
“We have been encouraged by the number of businesses who have contacted PPL PRS Ltd about licensing music after restrictions eased and they were able to open again. We are also excited to see what looks like the start of the return of live music, including the Brit Awards, which welcomed a 4,000-strong audience at the O2 on the 11th May as part of government research into how live events could work after the pandemic. It was a thrill for me to join a number of my PPL colleagues at the Brits as we were all reminded just how much we had missed watching live music performances.
“Despite the challenges of the pandemic, what I am most proud of is how much PPL achieved last year, including, in many instances, when working alongside our industry partners. This included our work with RDx (Repertoire Data Exchange), a centralised industry data exchange service launched by IFPI and WIN, and built and run by PPL. RDx became fully operational in 2020, providing a single point where recording rightsholders and rightsholder CMOs can submit and access recording data. It welcomed its first data sources last year with Universal Music, Sony Music and Beggars all successfully adding their sound recording data to the service, while Warner followed suit earlier this year.
“We are a Board member of DDEX – the Digital Data Exchange – a standards-setting organisation focused on the creation of digital value chain standards to make the exchange of data and information across the music industry more efficient. And we sit on the Board of SCAPR, the organisation which represents international performer CMOs. Through our membership of SCAPR, we are playing a leading role in the development of the organisation’s Virtual Recordings Database, which aims to improve how recording and performer data is exchanged between CMOs. This, in turn, will support the accuracy and efficiency of international payments made to performers.
“We made excellent progress last year as part of our close collaboration with PRS for Music to improve the linking of sound recording and musical works data between the PPL and PRS databases. All this will result in more authoritative and robust data and, ultimately, more accurate payments to rightsholders, performers and songwriters.
“I cannot stress enough the importance to our industry of having accurate, authoritative and comprehensive data, especially at a time when the number of data lines is growing substantially each year and the number of income sources continues to rapidly expand. RDx, DDEX, the Virtual Recordings Database and the work we are doing with PRS are all playing a role in increasing the quality and accuracy of data and ensuring that performers and recording rightsholders are paid properly and on time.
“Another important and growing area for PPL is our Business Services operation where we are using our cutting-edge IT systems, high-quality data and neighbouring rights expertise to support the delivery distributions for other CMOs around the world. Last year we provided services to CMOs in Ireland, Estonia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Portugal and Switzerland, which helped them to make quicker, more accurate and complete distributions to their members.
“To follow on from the Q&A with Paulette and Kate earlier, I now want to take a moment to talk about how we are moving forward our equity, diversity and inclusion agenda.
“This time last week marked the first anniversary of Blackout Tuesday, a day of collective action to address the issue of racism. For us at PPL, it served as a wake-up call and an opportunity to take stock and consider what more we could do to make real and meaningful change.
“Although equity, diversity and inclusion has long been an important area of focus for PPL, over this past year we have introduced a number of policies and initiatives, which we recognise is only the start of the process, but we are trying to proactively drive change.
“We launched an internal Diversity Forum with a remit to push forward ideas, deliver feedback and provide wider support to bring about positive change across PPL. The Forum’s formation was part of a five-point pledge drawn up by PPL and which served as our response to the Black Music Coalition’s call to action for the UK music industry.
“The launch of the Diversity Forum was followed in October last year by PPL signing up to the Ten Point Plan, established by the UK Music’s Diversity Taskforce and which aligns evidence and metrics to strategic action to help increase diversity and inclusion among UK Music’s member organisations, including PPL.
“We have increased diversity on both the PPL Board and the Performer Board and will continue to go further. We are fully committed to making the same progress among the ranks of our senior teams. We know delivering this will not be an easy or quick fix, but we have put in place a number of initiatives to move this forward, including the implementation of a programme to boost diversity in middle and senior management.
“I am pleased to say that we have been supported in our efforts by a whole number of senior Black and Asian executives in the music industry. All of them have generously shared with us their wisdom, experience and invaluable advice and, on behalf of my colleagues in the Executive Management Team, I want to take this opportunity to thank them for their continuing support.
“This just leaves me with the important task of thanking the PPL Board and PPL’s Chairman John Smith who, since the last AGM, was awarded an OBE for services to music in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List. John has spent his entire career working on behalf of performers, so this recognition was fully deserved.
“I share with you the frustration of us having to hold our AGM online for a second successive year because of the pandemic. Hopefully, next year’s event will be at a venue and in front of an audience, so we can all catch up again in person. But, for now, I wish you all the best and very many thanks for your time.”