After a quick courtshipRobert Kinkle, who is retiring, has been appointed CEO of YouTube Warner Music Group and will replace Steve Cooper when he retires next year. According to the announcement, Kyncl and Cooper will serve as CEOs in January 2023. Effective February 1, 2023, Kyncl will become the sole CEO of WMG and will replace Cooper on the WMG board of directors.
Kyncl brings deep music industry experience to the job: YouTube is both the world’s largest video streaming and music streaming platform, and he’s played a big role in its negotiations with labels and publishers and is generally well-received (which is surprising, given the often contentious relationship between two parties). He’s also a pioneer in the streaming business: before becoming YouTube’s chief business officer, he transitioned Netflix from DVD to digital.
Cooper is the longest-serving CEO in WMG’s history, having been appointed in August 2011 following the purchase of Len Blavatnik’s Access Industries. He led the company to an IPO during the height of the pandemic in 2020 and saw it become the first music and entertainment company to report streaming as the largest source of recorded music revenue. Under his leadership, the company acquired companies such as Parlophone Label Group – which includes Coldplay and David Bowie’s catalog – Gold Typhoon, Spinnin’ and 300.
The WMG Board of Directors said: “After a thorough search, we are delighted to appoint Robert Kinkle, who will be an outstanding leader for the continued transformation and success of WMG. We thank Steve for his many achievements over more than a decade and we look forward to welcoming our new CEO in January.”
Len Blavatnik, founder and chairman of Access Industries, said: “Robert is the CEO to meet this moment. Its mastery of technology for creativity will open new possibilities for artists, songwriters and their teams. He sees beyond the horizon to find ways to make world-class entertainment accessible to everyone.”
He added: “It’s hard to overstate our gratitude to Steve for all his experience and hard work. He did an exceptional job taking the company from decline to growth and leading its IPO in 2020. He has built a strong management team and culture, and his tenure at WMG will benefit the music ecosystem for years to come.”
Kyncl said: “Music is an incredible creative force with an unrivaled ability to bring emotion, create communities and promote change. We are only at the beginning of what is possible in recognizing the true power, value and reach of music. Thanks to Steve and his team, WMG is very well positioned for the future of serving artists and songwriters and their fans. I look forward to working with Max [Lousada]A guy [Moot]Corian [Marshall]and all of the company’s management, and I thank the WMG Board of Directors, Len and Steve, for this exceptional opportunity at this iconic company.”
Cooper said: “Robert is an excellent choice as CEO. He is an extremely talented executive who will bring a dynamic energy to WMG and the music business. He will have world-class partners in WMG’s senior management and global team. I’m very proud of everything we’ve accomplished together, attracting and nurturing great artists and songwriters while leading the industry in embracing new technology and expanding into emerging markets. After completing a smooth transition with Robert, I look forward to becoming a regular fan of the best team in the business.”
While many suggested that this role might not seem big enough for Kyncl after his big roles on YouTube and Netflix, there are many reasons why this move could appeal to Kyncl, who clearly enjoys a challenge. Clearly, as the rare tech leader who crosses over into music (as opposed to the other way around), he has a unique perspective and can bring insights to the mix with huge potential impact on both businesses. And while Warner seems permanently entrenched in the No. 3 spot behind the much larger Universal and Sony, people love an underdog that punches above its weight. With an extensive catalog and current roster that includes Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, Dua Lipa, Lizzo and many more, as well as a ton of Warner’s Atlantic Records, the most successful label in the business for the past two decades, Kyncl can find it fun to give the leaders a run for their money.
Warner is the third largest major music group, behind Universal and Sony, the labels owned by Warner Music include Atlantic, which is the most successful major label in the business, Elektra and its flagship Warner Records, and the third largest music publisher, Warner Chappell Music. Its main performers are: Ed Sheeran, Lizzo, Dua Lipa and others.
Cooper guided the company with a firm, calm and steady hand through the first decade of the streaming era and after it went public for the second time in the early months of the 2020 pandemic. The company’s profits at the time were declining after his arrival, and he not only reversed that trend, but also doubled revenues and mastered new technologies—often before Warner’s competitors—and business opportunities. However, Kyncl will face headwinds as the company’s stock has fallen since its IPO and the industry faces flattening streaming growth amid an uncertain economic climate.