Vast biz empire of ABBA casts its eye on homevideo

Stockholm

ABBA to most foreigners is a meticulously packaged male-female pop quartet that is perhaps, more notable for its business acumen than its musical artistry.

There’s no disputing ABBA’s worldwide popularity. The Swedish group’s record sales have been among the highest of any pop-group ever. According to the English-language Sweden Business Report, there is one ABBA record in every third home in Canada.

Since the group hasn’t toured in the U.S. since 1979, its stateside popularity has suffered some. The group’s still-huge U.S. following boasts of ABBA’s fresh, catchy sound, its clever songs and arrangements – thanks in large part to ABBA’s resident svengali, Stikkan (Stig) Anderson – and its relatively wholesome in-person display of saucy yet “tasteful” sexiness that eschews the grungy rebelliousness of many pop ensembles. ABBA, in short is wholesome positively set to a rock beat.

To its detractors, ABBA comes across as a largely derivative group electronically hyped to a farethewell. Critics complain the group members – Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad – sound like robots rather than flesh-and-blood performers.

Conglomerate

Whatever, ABBA’s keen business sense is immediately apparent to a foreign visitor here. Fueled by the more than $US100,000,000 the group’s musical activities have generated, ABBA members and Anderson built via their Polar Music International AB an extensive corporate empire. Polar is not really so much a corporation as it is a conglomerate.

Sitting in one of the group’s stylish business offices in Stockholm, Lars Dahlin, Polar Vice President, provides the latest glimpse of the ABBA-Anderson holdings. The shape of Polar is constantly changing due to organizations and reorganizations prompted by Sweden’s general economic climate.

A plan to take Polar public in 1982, for example, was shelved. A dicey foray in the Rotterdam spot oil market in 1980 soured and was dropped. Record sales in Sweden are flat, and ABBA hasn’t issued a new album in a year. Work on a new recording “is going slowly,” says Dahlin, with only 3 or 4 tracks (about a third of what’s considered necessary for a full album) completed.

Breakup rumors

There’s also alarm that ABBA might disband, a casualty of grinding road tours around the world, marital discord within its ranks and – of affluence. Dahlin says “there’s no discussion of them quitting,” but hastily adds that the Polar empire is no longer dependent on ABBA musical output. “We now have the muscle to go into other ventures.” (Total revenues are estimated at about $US125,000,000 per year).

One of the new ventures Polar is eager to get into is homevideo. Anderson, who’s ABBA’s composer-lyricist-manager, was recently in the U.S. supposedly dangling large sums before American majors in return for videocassette rights in Sweden. Word is that he offered some $US6,000,000 for the rights to Columbia’s video package, although reports to that effect couldn’t be officially confirmed.

Polar Video, Polar’s entry into the homevideo market, is still very much in its infancy. A unit of Polar’s PMJ subsid, it’s just beginning to hire a staff.

Swede vid rights eyed

Dahlin is guardedly optimistic. He predicts rapid growth of the Swedish home video market, a growth he thinks Polar is ideally suited to exploit thanks to its record distribution capability via its 16% owned GDC central storage, sales and distribution facility. Immediate aim is to acquire Swedish rights to homevideo software - “it’s too expensive right now to buy Scandinavian rights.”

At the moment, however, Polar Video is small potatoes compared to other ABBA-Anderson holdings. Herewith some particulars, as painlessly and simply stated as possible and as outlined by Dahlin:

* Polar Music Int’l. AB: This is the overall holding company, jointly owned by the four ABBA members and Stig Anderson and his family.

* Invest Finans: Sweden’s only large finance company not linked with a bank. Essentially a leasing concern, it was set up at the end of 1978, and leases business and manufacturing machines to a number of big companies. Concern has net assets at some 300,000,000 Swedish krona by Dahlin’s estimate, and might go public before parent Polar does. It is a key Polar subsid.

* Stockholms Badhus: A public company controlled by Polar, it owns real estate and commercial properties. Among the holdings is a 100-year-old sauna bath establishment in downtown Stockholm (from which it gets its name). Total amount of holdings: SK450,000,000.

* Monark: A bicycle manufacturer and sportswear wholesaler acquired in Spring 1980. Polar has a 37% interest in Monark, which has total sales of about SK424,000,000.

* Polar Music Int’l: This is the record business arm of the parent company which, confusingly, has the same name. All ABBA activities come under the sway of this unit as well as all general music activities – recording activities (those of ABBA and other groups), studio operations, Polar video, rack-jobbing (under a Grammo Rack subsid of a subsid), U.S. merchandising (with a New York City office) and the GDC distribution center. Latter lists as shareholders Polygram, WEA-Metronome and parent Polar, which controls 16% interest. GDC as a distribution unit covers about 45% of total Swedish record sales. 

* Sweden Music: A music publishing entity totally owned by Stig Anderson, but nonetheless listed under the Polar family tree. Most of its revenue comes, of course, from publishing ABBA-associated material but it also represents other music categories. It is says Dahlin, the biggest music publisher in Scandinavia.

* Sol-Ax: This concern uses internally generated Polar cash, largely via ABBA activities, to lend to other business and companies. Has a portfolio of share on the Swedish stock market. Transcribed for ABBA World

Variety (New York) · Wednesday, 7 October 1981 (Pages 84 & 96)


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