In Death, Michael Jackson Bigger Than Elvis and the Beatles

ONE YEAR LATER: John, Paul, George and Ringo laid a blueprint that Jackson’s estate has lucratively expanded upon almost note for note

MORE TO READ: "One Year Later: Our Complete Jackson Coverage"

Is Michael Jackson the fifth Beatle?

Indeed, if the posthumous multi-million reinvigoration of the “Thriller” superstar’s bottom line since his death last June 25 is any indication, John, Paul, George and Ringo laid a blueprint that Michael’s estate has lucratively expanded upon almost note for note. 

In the last year, according to Billboard, the Jackson estate has negotiated and raised over $1 billion from record sales, the hit “This Is It” concert film, licensing, merchandising and catalogue deals.

And, like the years since the Fab Four broke up in 1970, the some of the self-styled King of Pop’s most punctual, prolific and profitable times are ahead.

Without even venturing into projects such as Katherine Jackson's just released “Never Can Say Good Bye” coffee-table tome and other family moneymakers, the expected profits from Brand MJ looks to easily reach into the hundreds of millions year after year.

Though there won’t be a repeat of the $6.5 million in unrefunded concert tickets the Jackson estate made last year, the King of Pop seems on target to in just a few years reap far greater profits than the King of Rock 'n' Roll and the Fab Four put together.

Elvis Presley's estate, which was valued about $10 million when the legend died in 1977, is currently worth about $700 million. Making most of its money from visitors to Graceland, licensed memorabilia and record sales, the estate is managed by entertainment content asset developers CKX Inc., who are the owners of "American Idol" and 85 percent of Elvis Presley Enterprises.

With the remaster of the entire Beatles catalogue, which has sold over 15 million copies worldwide since being released on Sept. 9., 2009, and "The Beatles: Rock Band" videogame, the Beatles estate, which is run by the band's Apple Corp., is estimated, according to music industry insiders, to worth around $900 million.

Of course, with MJ's 50 percent stake in the SONY/ATV catalogue, which owns 250 Beatles songs, the Jackson estate is making money off the Beatles during what has also been a very profitable time for the Fab Four.

Similar to the bestselling “Beatles Anthology” series from the 1990s and 2009’s remastered release of the entire Beatles catalogue, the $250 million 10-album deal that the estate signed with Jackson’s old label Sony in March means there’ll be a lot of Michael to hear — some new and most not.

The agreement, which runs until 2017, ensures there’ll be a steady waterfall of unreleased tunes, remixes, repackagings, with 1979’s “Off the Wall” and 1987’s “Bad” set to come out in the next year. Already, the upcoming holiday season looks rich for Jackson with the first album of unreleased material scheduled for November.

Though what that material actually will be and how new it truly is seems to be another matter.

“A lot of ‘unreleased songs’ are earlier versions of finished songs,” a former Jackson business associate told TheWrap. Again, the model is similar again to the “Beatles Anthology,” which was mainly demos and different mixes of classic Lennon/McCartney songs plus newly produced versions of old and often bootleg tunes like “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love” 

“They’re misleading people. A lot of it is unreleased versions of things he didn’t intend to put out,” the business associate insisted of the future releases.

November also sees the release of a "singing and dancing" Jackson videogame from Ubisoft. "The estate approached us and other publishers,” Ubisoft Marketing VP Tony Key said at the time the game was revealed, “looking to see who could do the right product, and since we were the leader, we were the ones that ended up getting it.”

The game, which doesn’t involve any expensive or cumbersome instruments, could even escape the drag of the sharp decline in the last year in music-oriented titles.

Like 2009’s successful “Beatles: Rock Band,” which had revenues of nearly $100 million, and taking a best practices note from their own various dance properties, the Ubisoft game, announced on June 16 at E3, uses the star’s best known songs and lets players, according to Key, "step into the shoes of Michael Jackson himself."

As was announced in April, there’ll be a Michael Jackson Cirque du Soleil show — just like the Beatles’ Vegas spectacular “Love.” According to estate co-executor lawyer John Branca, Jackson, like Beatle George Harrison, “was a huge fan” of the Canadian acrobatic arts spectacle.  

And just as Jackson grabbed the rich ATV Music publishing catalog, which included 250 Beatles songs, out from under then friend Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono in 1985 for $47.5 million, the singer’s estate has one upped the Beatles surviving members and spouses. Unlike the Beatles, Michael Jackson will have two Cirque shows, one to tour arenas starting in late 2011 and one to be housed permanently in Vegas beginning in fall 2012.

Neverland, which is now held in a family trust, likely won't be opening its doors anytime soon, to become a pilgrimage site like Elvis' Graceland. But the Vegas-based Jackson Cirque show is expected create a destination with all the accoutrements of celeb tourism one would expect in the heart of one of the world's great tourism centers.

Also, until Paul, Ringo, Yoko and George’s widow Olivia change their tune, Jackson has another profitable advantage over the Beatles – his music is available on iTunes and other legal digital download sites.

That’s a huge source of revenue, as was discovered in the days immediately following the 50-year-old performer’s death when over 2.3 million songs were downloaded worldwide. In those early days of July 2009, Michael Jackson tunes made up 25 percent of the songs sold on iTunes and all of the top 15 albums on Amazon. And on Aug. 21, 1982’s “Thriller” surged in sales up to 29 million units sold to tie the Eagles’ “Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975)” as the highest certified album in the Recording Industry Association of America’s Gold & Platinum history.

Over $500 million in debt before his death and heavily leveraged, Jackson had barely sold 10,000 records and had 37,000 downloads before he announced his comeback concerts on March 5, 2009.  Even with the leap in sales that followed and the nearly a million tickets sold, Jackson widely expected to bail on or cut short his 50-date comeback stint, scheduled to start on July 13, at London’s 20,000 seat O2 Arena.

Jackson, like John Lennon, never got to see his comeback but a year after his death he is once again one of the hottest acts in music.