Time Warner Inc. and Madonna yesterday announced a new multimedia contract that could be worth as much as $60 million to the Material Girl. That makes it one of the most lucrative deals ever negotiated by a pop entertainer, possibly topping the $50 million-plus agreement Michael Jackson reportedly negotiated last year with Sony Corp.
The communications giant and Madonna have teamed up to form Maverick, an entertainment company to be run by the 33-year-old pop icon and her longtime manager, Freddy DeMann. Maverick will consist of a record company and music publishing company and will also have television, film, merchandising and book publishing divisions.
Terms of the deal were not announced, but Madonna's existing contract with Sire Records (a label owned by Warner Bros.) ran for three more albums, and reportedly the new agreement extends that to seven albums. It also reportedly ups the per-album advance from $3 million to $5 million, and increases Madonna's royalty rate from 18 percent to 20 percent (the same as Jackson's and tops in the music business). In addition, Madonna will receive a multi-million-dollar video budget for each album.
An industry source said Time Warner had requested that Madonna submit to an AIDS test before signing the contract. Responding to a Washington Post reporter's inquiry, Madonna replied through a spokesman: "You're confused. I had to take an IQ test."
Madonna's new album, scheduled for a fall release and rumored to be a return to the dance music that made her a superstar, will be on her new label, Maverick/Sire, as will all future releases. As for the new label, the Los Angeles Times has reported that Time Warner will commit between $2 million and $5 million a year, with Madonna given full authority to sign new artists "no questions asked." The label will have offices in Los Angeles, New York and London.
One act on her wish list apparently got away before the deal was announced. L.A. female grunge band Hole was courted by Madonna but signed with the Geffen label (lead singer Courtney Love recently married Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana, which also records on Geffen).
Madonna's new deal will find her collaborating with several other Time Warner companies, including HBO (where her "Blond Ambition" concert was the highest rated entertainment event in cable television history) and Warner Books, where she may have her own imprint and where the first publication is likely to increase her legend as a pop provocateur: It's to be a coffee-table book featuring Madonna's erotic fantasies, photographed by Steven Meisel.
For several years, Madonna helmed Siren Films, a development deal with Columbia Pictures that ended last year. Her tour documentary, "Truth or Dare," distributed by Miramax last year, grossed $17 million in theatrical release. Now she will work through Warner Bros., which will have the right of first refusal on any of her future film projects, which reportedly include "Little Odessa," based on Joseph Koenig's 1988 novel about a young Russian immigrant living in Brooklyn's Brighton Beach who accidentally becomes involved in a crime caper. Another long-term project (which could show up on HBO) is a biographical film about the Mexican painter Frieda Kahlo, an oft-cited idol of Madonna's.
In a statement announcing the deal, Madonna said Maverick "stands for the perfect marriage of art and commerce," adding that she is "dedicated to make this enterprise a vehicle to entertain as well as enlighten, provoke and, naturally, make a profit."
Madonna has done all of that over a decade-long career that has spawned an overload of media attention, worldwide sales of 75 million albums, and 22 Top 10 singles (16 consecutive Top 5 singles) and nine No. 1 hits. Madonna videos have sold close to 4 million copies, including 600,000 copies of her controversial video single "Justify My Love."