Infobox record label
name = PolyGram
founded = 1945
status = In 1998, it was sold to
Seagramand made part of Universal Music Group
distributor = Decca Records USA
PolyGram was the name from 1972 of the
major labelrecording company started by Philipsas a holding company for its music interests in 1945. In 1998, it was sold to Seagramand made part of Universal Music Group.
Hollandsche Decca Distributie (HDD), 1929-1950
Decca Records(London) licensed record shop owner H.W. van Zoelenas a distributor in the Netherlands. By 1931, his company Hollandsche Decca Distributie (HDD) had become exclusive Deccadistributor for all of the Netherlands and its colonies. Over the course ofthe 1930s, HDD put together its own facilities for A&R, recording andmanufacture.
HDD was doing good business during
World War II, because of the absenceof American and British competition. Van Zoelen wanted to sell to Philipsso that HDD would have suitable backing when the competition returned, andso Philips took the opportunity to buy HDD in 1942.
At this time, most large recording companies manufactured both gramophonesand records; Philips CEO
Anton Philipshad noticed that it was risky to makegramophones without an interest in music recording and record manufacture,and that Radio Corporation of America(RCA) had merged with the Victor Talking Machine Companyin 1929 for this reason. Research was alreadygoing on in Philips' labs on magnetic tape and long-playing records, and arecord company could support eventual new formats, particularly as otherrecord companies were notably unenthusiastic about new formats.
After the war, Philips built a large factory in
Doetinchemto produce 78rpm records.
Philips Phonografische Industrie (PPI), 1950-1962
In the 1940s, the record business was spread out within Philips — researchin the
Eindhovenlabs, development elsewhere in Eindhoven, recording in Hilversum, manufacturing in Doetinchem, distribution from Amsterdamand exports from Eindhoven. During the late 1940s, Philips combined itsvarious music businesses into Philips Phonografische Industrie (PPI), awholly owned subsidiary.
PPI's early growth was based on alliances. A merger was first proposed withDecca of London in late 1945, but was rejected by Edward Lewis, Decca's owner. (PolyGram finally acquired Decca in 1979.)
In the early 1950s, Philips set itself the goal of making PPI thelargest record company in Europe.
PPI's second attempt at a merger was with
Deutsche GrammophonGesellschaft (DGG). DGG, owned by Siemens AGand well-known for itsclassical repertoire, had been the German licensee for Decca from 1935.Shortly after PPI was founded it had made a formal alliance with DGG tomanufacture each others' records, coordinate releases and not to poach eachothers' artists or bid against each other for new talent. PPI and DGGfinally merged in 1962.
The alliance with DGG still left PPI without repertoire in Britain or theUS. But in 1951, after Columbia had failed to renew itsinternational distribution agreement with
EMI, PPI agreed to distributeColumbia recordings outside the US and have Columbia distribute its recordingsinside the US. This agreement ran until 1961, when Columbia set up its ownEuropean network and PPI set out to make acquisitions in the US beginning with Mercury Recordsin 1962.
PPI built or bought factories in smaller countries. In 1962, PPI had a large factoryin
Baarnand factories in France, Britain, Denmark, Norway, Spain,Italy, Egypt, Nigeria and Brazil.
PPI played an important role in the introduction of the long-playing vinylrecord to Europe. Columbia introduced their LP record in 1948 and Philips presented its first LP at a record retailers' convention in 1949. Philips'commitment to LP technology was an important factor in its 1951-1961 dealwith Columbia.
GPG and PolyGram, 1962-1980
In 1962, PPI and DGG formed the Gramophon-Philips Group (GPG), withPhilips taking a 50% share in DGG and Siemens a 50% share in PPI. In 1972the companies formally merged to form PolyGram, of which Philips andSiemens each owned 50%. In 1977 both organizations merged operationally,integrating the recording, manufacturing, distribution and marketing into asingle organization.
The various record labels within PolyGram continued to operate separately. PolyGram gave its labels, as A&Rorganizations, great autonomy.
GPG needed to move into the US and UK markets, and did so by a process ofacquisition: Mercury/Smash/Wing (US) in 1962, RSO (UK) in 1967,
MGM Recordsand Verve (US) in 1972, Casablanca (US) in 1977, Pickwickin 1978, and Decca(UK) in 1980. PolyGram acquired United Distribution Corporation(UDC)in 1973 and signed distribution deals with MCA and 20th Century Recordsin 1976.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Philips had been at work on a newconsumer
magnetic tapeformat for music. The Philips compact cassettecame out in 1963. It was small, played longer than an LP and wasrobust. In 1965 the cassette accounted for 3% of revenues, growing in 1968to 8% and in 1970 to 10.6%.
In the late 1960s and through the 1970s, GPG/PolyGram diversified into filmand television production and home video. RSO's successes included
Saturday Night Feverand Grease. PolyGram's highly successfulmarketing during the discocraze included the Casablanca film Thank God It's Fridayand its associated soundtrack. During the boom in disco, PolyGram's US market share had gone from 5% to20%. This can also be attributed to multi-million selling LPs & 45s by The Bee Gees, Donna Summer, The Village People, Andy Gibb, Kool and The Gangand rock act Kiss. For a short while, it was the world's largest record company.
Before 1978, with the acquisition of UDC, the distribution organization was too large and PolyGram was losing money. When US operations were running at full capacity, PolyGram expanded aggressively, and would press large quantities of records without knowing the demand. In late 1979, Polygram was caught offguard by the sudden end of the popularity of disco music, leaving it with an underutilized distribution network, profligate labels, and overoptimistic product orders. Polygram's Casablanca label was infamous for management spending on luxury cars and
cocaine. After 1980, PolyGram's losses had spiraled upwards of US$220 million.
Another contributing factor to Polygram's financial woes was the massive failure of the big budget film version of "
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band". The film starred the Bee Gees and Peter Framptonat the heights of their popularity, and featured Beatle covers by them as well as Aerosmith, Billy Preston, and Earth, Wind, and Fire. The film was highly anticipated to surpass the box office success of both the "Saturday Night Fever" and "Grease", mostly due to the film's popular music stars. The soundtrack LP, based on only advance orders, was released triple platinum. However, the movie was released to blistering reviews and died a quick death at the box office. Despite its triple platinum start, the soundtrack LP's sales then bombed after the film's release. In turn, record dealers flooded Polygram with returned LPs. The resulting losses nearly wiped out the profits the company had made on both "Saturday Night Fever" and "Grease" soundtracks. When the disco craze ended in 1979 and records sales for both The Bee Gees and Casablanca's Village Peopleplummeted, the company's fate was sealed. Polygram also experienced losses by the defection of Casablanca's Donna Summerto newly formed Geffenas well as the dropping of Andy Gibb from the label, whose personal problems with cocaine and alcohol began to affect his recording career. Summer and The Bee Gees also had legal disputes with their labels, which further complicated matters.
In 1983, Philips manager Jan Timmer was appointed CEO. He cut the workforce from 13,000 to 7,000, reduced PolyGram's LP and cassette plants from eighteen to five and decreased the company's dependence on superstars by spreading the repertoire across different genres and nurturing national and regional talent. By 1985, PolyGram was profitable once more. Its roster of labels by this time included: Polydor, Mercury, Wing, Fontana, Vertigo, London, FFRR, Casablanca, RSO, De-Lite, Riva, Threshold, Tin Pan, Atlanta Artists, and Total Experience.
In 1982, Polygram purchases 20th Century Fox Records from Rupert Murdoch who had recently purchased all of 20th Century Fox, and was not interested in keeping the record company. The assets of the former 20th Century Fox Records were consolidated with the company's Casablanca label.
After an attempted 1983 merger with Warner Music failed, Philips bought 40% of PolyGram from Siemens, and in 1987 the remaining 10%.
compact disc, invented by Philips and Sony, helped greatly in boosting the company's sales and market share. PolyGram's strength in classical music helped greatly, as many of the CD's early adopters were classical music lovers. Total US sales of CDs were 1 million in 1983, 334 million in 1990 and 943 million in 2000. Total UK sales were 300,000 in1983, 51 million in 1990 and 202 million in 2000. The CD increased PolyGram's profit margin from 4-6% in the mid-1980s to 7-9% by the early 1990s. As well, videos were distributed by PolyGram Video.
In 1989, Philips floated 16% of PolyGram on the Amsterdam stock exchange, valuing the whole company at $5.6 billion. PolyGram embarked on a new program of acquisitions, including A&M and
Island Recordsin 1989, Swedish company Polar Musicwhich held the rights to the ABBAcatalogue, Motownin 1993, Def Jamin 1994 and Rodven(Venezuela) in 1995.
In 1998, Philips sold PolyGram to
Seagramand it was merged into Universal Music Group.
List of record labels
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment
Chocolate City Records
ources and references
* [http://www.essex.ac.uk/AFM/research/working_papers/WP03-12.pdf The Making Of A Music Multinational: The International Strategy of PolyGram, 1945-1988] (PDF) by Dr
Gerben Bakker, Dept. of Accounting, Finance and Management, University of Essex.
* [http://www.last.fm/label/Polygram PolyGram] at
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