Talks between Apple and Vivendi Universal, Universal Music Group's parent company, have been held secretly for months, the Los Angeles Times reported. Apple may offer $5 billion to $6 billion for the music company before Vivendi's April 29 board meeting, the newspaper said, citing sources it did not identify.
When reached by the newspaper, representatives for both Apple and Vivendi declined to comment about the possible deal.
Vivendi has been trying to sell some of its assets and raise about $7 billion this year after barely staving off bankruptcy in 2002 as it struggled to cope with billions of debt, a collapsing share price, and boardroom infighting. Top executives such as Barry Diller and former chairman Jean-Marie Messier have departed within the last year.
Investor Marvin Davis has offered about $13 billion for 65 percent of the entertainment assets and has been the only known bidder to express serious interest in the music company. A separate sale of the music operation would appear to work in favor of Liberty Media Corp. and others that are focused on the company's other entertainment properties.
Apple, which has annual sales of about $5.7 billion, owns less than 3 percent of the desktop computing market but has indicated that supplying music to customers may be its future.
The Cupertino, Calif.-based company has been testing a service that allows users to buy and download digital music for their computers. The service is expected to debut by the end of April.
Universal reaps about $6 billion in sales annually from artists such as 50 Cent, Shania Twain and U2, but has seen operating profits slide 23 percent last year. It accounts for about 25 percent of all CD sales and has such top labels as Interscope and Def Jam.
Vivendi first approached Apple CEO Steve Jobs in December, not long after its music executives visited Apple's headquarters to view a demonstration of Apple's new digital service, sources told the Times.