Here's Who's Most Likely to Buy Rolling Stone

By Published on .

The Dec. 14-28, 2017 issue of Rolling Stone.
The Dec. 14-28, 2017 issue of Rolling Stone.

UPDATE: "Penske Media buys majority stake in Rolling Stone magazine," via Reuters (Dec. 20, 9:08 p.m. ET)

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In September, Rolling Stone founder and chief Jann Wenner, along with his heir-apparent son Gus, announced that they were putting the rest of the 50-year-old magazine up for sale, after having already sold 49 percent of it in 2106. Now it appears that a majority buyer is likely to be named soon.

"Everyone on the inside is hoping it's Penske," a person with knowledge of the sales process told me. "Everyone on the outside who's paying attention assumes it's going to be Penske. But you never know until you know with Jann, and BandLab is a wildcard."

Penske is L.A.-based Penske Media Corporation, run by CEO Jay Penske, who has been seen on-site in the past week at Rolling Stone's Manhattan HQ kicking the tires. BandLab is BandLab Technologies, a Singapore music-tech company founded by Kuok Meng Ru. BandLab is believed to have right of first refusal on buying out the remaining 51 percent of the magazine, after having spent a reported $40 million last year for its 49 percent stake. (Rolling Stone parent company Wenner Media is declining to make its executives available for comment on the status of the sale.)

PMC is seen as the most likely majority buyer because the company has had success acquiring and breathing new life into legacy media brands including Variety and Women's Wear Daily, as well as owning and operating digital-native brands such as Deadline and HollywoodLife. The New York Post's Keith Kelly reported earlier this month that "Playboy owner Rizvi Traverse, The Hollywood Reporter owner Todd Boehly's Eldridge Industries, and the venture put together by Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan and Irving Azoff are all believed to have faded out of the picture in recent weeks."

BandLab is a wildcard not only because of its right of first refusal, but because Kuok Meng Ru is largely an unknown quantity in the U.S. As Joe Pompeo writes at Vanity Fair, "If Kuok does not win Rolling Stone in full, the triumphant party will find themselves in bed with the minority partner. And, according to one of my sources, predicting the sort of partner that BandLab might be is weighing on the minds of bidders."

In August 2016, Kuok was the subject of a Bloomberg story by Yoolim Lee headlined "Billionaire's 28-Year-Old Son Picks Digital Music Empire Over Palm-Oil Riches." The story begins,

Kuok Meng Ru didn't spend much time with his billionaire father when he was growing up. As the third child of an agribusiness tycoon, he was sent off to a British boarding school at 10, graduating later from Cambridge University with a mathematics degree. His father Kuok Khoon Hong was busy building Wilmar International Ltd. into the world's largest palm-oil business, starting from scratch in 1991. His mother constantly reminded him: "Much has been given, much will be expected."

Yet it was the father who introduced his son to Eric Clapton's music. That led to an obsession with B.B. King and a love affair with the blues guitar. "I always felt like I had a personal relationship with him," Kuok said of the late guitarist.

And shortly after the publication of that piece, Singapore millennial Kuok Meng Ru bought his way into owning part of an iconic American magazine historically (and still) most associated with baby-boomer-era music.

What remains to be seen is what combination of motivations—personal, emotional, nostalgic, opportunistic and/or outright mercenary—will factor into the acquisition of the majority stake in Rolling Stone ... whoever ends up writing the check.

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