This $5 Billion Company Deals with Dead Celebrities

I had a conversation with someone very, very high up in the music-and-tech business. “The next big thing,” he said, “is massive exploitation of the images and past performances of dead celebrities. This tech might go on tour, but the best use of it is going to be in places Las Vegas. Imagine going to a show where Elvis, Keith Moon, Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain all perform together! Think people would pay to see that? That old cliche of ‘If there’s a rock’n’roll heaven, they’re going to have a helluva band’ is going to come true!”

I totally believe this is going to happen. There are billions of dollars to be made from dead celebrities. The estates of these people–Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, Prince, Bowie, you name it–want to (a) protect those legacies; and (b) prevent any exploitation of their image from people who don’t have the right to. These estates turn to a growing group of companies to help them execute their vision.

Here’s an article from Bloomberg that talks about one particular company that has built a $5 billion business playing moneyball with dead celebrities.

In April, Shannon Gagliardi, a 48-year-old nurse practitioner from Louisville, took the vacation of a lifetime. She’s a fan of Elvis Presley and still considers missing a 1976 New Year’s Eve concert by the King in Pittsburgh one of the biggest regrets of her life—even though she was only 6 at the time. So it was a dream come true when she stayed three nights at the Guest House at Graceland with her sister, brother, niece, and grandniece. Missing from the family pilgrimage to Elvis’s storied estate in Memphis: Gagliardi’s 17-year-old daughter, who didn’t know what Graceland was.

The range of a mother’s and daughter’s excitement about a trip to Elvis’s homestead shows both the business promise and the generational risk facing Jamie Salter, whose Authentic Brands Group LLCrecently completed a $137 million makeover of Graceland, four years after buying a majority stake in the Elvis name. Authentic opened the 450-room, four-diamond Guest House hotel next door in late 2016, a notable upgrade to the worn strip of dollar stores and gas stations flanking the 14-acre property. A rundown RV park and “Heartbreak Hotel” nearby are scheduled for demolition. A new museum complex was opened across the street in March, quintupling the space to showcase all things Elvis, including 22 (out of 88) of the King’s jumpsuits.

Some might call that excessive adulation for an entertainer who died almost four decades ago and whose music and movies were hits long before the arrival of millennials. But if Salter knows ­anything, it’s how to raise the dead—at least ­financially. His company owns the commercial rights of not only Elvis’s name but also Marilyn Monroe’s and Muhammad Ali’s; it also manages the licenses for Michael Jackson’s estate. “This will be the biggest year that Elvis has had in a decade,” Salter says proudly.

Keep reading.

Once you’re done, have a listen to this podcast that discusses things like nostalgia rock concerts and the future of the touring business.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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