Sony Pictures Entertainment is the US-based film, television and video arm of Sony Corporation. Founded in 1989, the business was initially an expensive mistake for the Japanese electronics company, but finally began to hit its stride in the late 1990s. Key to its recent successes have been the Spider-man movie trilogy, as well as an ongoing non-exclusive partnership with star Will Smith, who has given Sony no less than seven of its most successful films of all time. The group is centred around the Columbia Pictures film studio, and Sony Pictures Television divisions. Between 2004 and 2010, it was a leading member of the consortium which acquired control of legendary studio MGM for around $5.0bn, although that company continued to operate entirely separately from Sony. Following the subsequent break-up of MGM, Sony retained rights to the James Bond franchise. Performance had been generally first-rate until a series of underperforming releases in 2013, followed by a devastating cyber-attack.
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Adbrands Daily Update 19th Nov 2019: Sony moved back into US cable broadcasting with the reacquisition of the 42% of shares it didn't already own in Game Show Network, the cable strand that specialises in classic quiz shows like Family Feud, Deal Or No Deal and Wheel Of Fortune. The vendor is AT&T, which had inherited the channel as part of DirecTV. Sony's deal values the channel at just over $900m. Sony is paying AT&T $380m, and the communications group also gets to keep $120m of cash GSN has in hand, for a total windfall of $500m. Sony originally launched the channel in 1994, but later sold a 50% stake in the business to John Malone's Liberty Media, though it retained management control. This stake was later transferred to DirecTV, which subsequently agreed to sell back small additional shareholdings to Sony prior to the latest deal.
Adbrands Weekly Update 5th Apr 2018: Disney/Marvel's Black Panther was finally toppled last week as the #1 movie in the US (by Pacific Rim: Uprising) after an extraordinary five week run, but it has nonetheless completely dominated the box office for the first quarter of 2018, with takings in excess of $650m. It became the 5th highest grossing movie of all-time in the US in the space of just 31 days, and is likely to reach the #3 spot before the end of this month. Similarly, Sony's Jumanji sequel - released late last December - enjoyed almost as strong a hold over January, reigning as the #1 for four out of the first five weeks of 2018 to accumulate a total gross of over $403m. The dominance of both movies illustrates an alarming dilemma facing movie studios. The next most popular release, Peter Rabbit, has grossed just $110m, and only one other - Fifty Shades Freed - broke $100m.
Ticket sales are increasingly concentrated among just a handful of ultra-successful releases, while other movies struggle to find any audience at all. According to researcher comScore, in 2015, 2016 and 2017, the top 10 movies of the year raked in between 32% and 35% of total box office. Previously, that figure had never exceeded 30%. For the first quarter of 2018, the equivalent figure is 58%, and that's excluding Jumanji, officially a hold-over from 2017. In reality, Black Panther and Jumanji alone accounted for over a third of total box office since 29th Dec. As the WSJ pointed out, "With the rapidly growing high-quality television options and more original movies available to watch at home on streaming services, it is harder to draw people to movie theatres. Because people no longer need to go to theatres to find something good to see, they are more likely to be drawn when a movie becomes a cultural phenomenon, like 'Black Panther' or last year’s horror sensation 'It'."
Adbrands Weekly Update 25th Jan 2018: After years of under-performance, Sony Pictures finds itself in the unfamiliar position of being the most successful movie studio of the year to-date. Admittedly it's still only January, but Sony's Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle movie is the undisputed champion of the first three weeks of the year, outgrossing even Disney's mammoth Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Released towards the end of December, Jumanji became the #1 movie in the first week of the year and has retained that position ever since. According to industry watcher BoxOfficeMojo, Jumanji grossed $147m in the US in the first three weeks of January (and millions more internationally), compared to $87m for Jedi.
Adbrands Weekly Update 18th May 2017: Sony named former Fox TV networks chief Tony Vinciquerra as the new chairman & CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment, its film and TV division. He replaces Michael Lynton, who announced plans to step down several months ago to focus on his role as chairman of Snap Inc.
Adbrands Weekly Update 18th Jan 2017: Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton announced plans to step down by mid-year to focus on his non-executive role as chairman of Snap Inc, the parent entity for social media service Snapchat. That company is expected to issue an IPO within the next few months. Lynton has led Sony Pictures since 2004, guiding it through the turbulence of the devastating 2014 cyberhack which leaked millions of private emails into the public domain. Under his command, Sony was twice the top grossing studio in the US, in 2006 and 2012. He is also co-CEO of parent entity Sony Entertainment, which also houses Sony Music. A successor will be appointed in due course.
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Free for all users | see full profile for current activities: Until the late 1980s, Sony Corporation was almost exclusively a consumer electronics manufacturer, with a mixed track record. The company's fortunes were based on its early technological breakthroughs in audio tape and television manufacturing. But the 1980s had provided a series of both hits and misses. Sony's Betamax video standard had been a flop, but the Walkman and Compact Disc were unqualified successes. Towards the end of the decade the company took a strategic decision to turn itself from a hardware manufacturer into a software supplier as well. Supported by a booming Japanese economy, Sony invaded the US entertainment market for the first time in 1988, acquiring music industry giant CBS Records to form the core of new arm Sony Music.
One year later the company dug even deeper into its pockets to buy film studio Columbia Pictures for a then-staggering $3.4bn, at that time the biggest ever Japanese investment in the US. The acquisition was one of the last decisions taken by group co-founder Akio Morita before he retired. But for a while the purchase threatened to be an even worse drain on company resources than the Betamax disaster.
Columbia had been formed in 1920 as CBC Film Sales, after the initials of its founders Harry Brandt and brothers Jack and Harry Cohn. In 1924, the name was changed to Columbia Pictures, but for 10 years the business struggled. Then in 1934, the studio backed upcoming director Frank Capra on comedy It Happened One Night. That movie was a huge hit, becoming the first film to win all five top Oscars. Capra followed it with a string of further classics for Columbia, including Mr Smith Goes to Washington. In 1948, the company was the first film studio to set up a dedicated television programming unit, Screen Gems. It also went on to win gold at the cinema box-office (as well as a string of Oscars) in the 1950s and 1960s with films including On The Waterfront, Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia.
Columbia's fortunes declined significantly towards the end of the 1970s, despite hits including Shampoo, Taxi Driver and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. A low point came when it was revealed that studio head David Begelman had embezzled thousands of dollars from the company by forging expenses claims from actors. He used the cash to pay off his own gambling debts. Coca-Cola rescued the company in 1982, paying $750m to buy out its shareholders. Columbia launched sister studio TriStar Pictures the same year, originally as a joint venture with CBS Television and Home Box Office. The group scored a few big hits including Tootsie, Gandhi and Ghostbusters, but then took a big risk by appointing independent British producer David Puttnam as head of the studio. Puttnam was way out of his depth, and attempted to throw traditional Hollywood culture out of the window in favour of low-budget feel-good movies. The business struggled on for a couple of years before Puttnam was ousted by a group of Hollywood insiders led by producer Ray Stark.
By now, Coke was growing tired with its problem child, and Sony's more-than-generous offer was one it couldn't refuse. Not content with over-paying for Columbia, Sony then spent yet more money to bring on-board a new management team headed by independent producers John Peters and Peter Guber, who had made Batman for Warners. Famously, Guber and Peters spent another fortune redecorating their new offices, but proved to have no sure hand at making hits, turning out a series of poor movies, capped by Arnold Schwarzenegger's The Last Action Hero, which made what was then considered an astronomical loss of more than $26m. By 1994, Columbia's box office receipts had halved, and the studio recorded a loss for the year of $510m. Writing off goodwill of $3.2bn from the acquisition of the studio dragged parent Sony Corporation into loss in 1995.
Guber and Peters were paid off and former Warner Bros executive John Calley was recruited in 1996 to turn the company around. With a reputation for careful and financially sound management, he oversaw the production of a string of hits including the triple-header of Men In Black (then the studio's most successful movie ever until superseded by Spider-man), Air Force One and My Best Friend's Wedding, all released in 1997. That year, Sony broke all-time records for a motion picture distributor, surpassing $2.3bn in worldwide box office revenues. TriStar was folded into Columbia in 1998 in order to streamline the business.
In 2000, Sony Pictures and sister company Sony Music were grouped under the Sony Broadband Entertainment umbrella, under the control of Sony's US chairman Howard Stringer. Keen to avoid the damage inflicted on the music industry by internet piracy, Sony teamed up with MGM, Paramount, Universal and Warner Bros in 2002 to develop Movielink, a video-on-demand service to air movies over the internet. But the company's crowning achievement that year was the astonishing success of Spider-man, which took $404m in the US market alone. The following year it was the fastest-selling home entertainment title of all time when it made its debut on DVD. Going out with a bang, John Calley retired as chairman-CEO towards the end of the year, and Michael Lynton was recruited from AOL Europe to take his place.
In early 2004, a consortium comprising Sony Pictures and investment groups Providence Equity Partners and Texas Pacific Group opened talks to acquire rival movie studio MGM for around $4.5bn. Those talks seemed to have stalled by the summer, prompting Time Warner to issue a rival offer. The two bidders jostled for position over the next few months, but Sony delivered the knock-out blow in September, offering $4.9bn. The deal was approved by shareholders and regulators in 2005. Also in 2004, Sony Pictures entered China for the first time, forming the Huasuo joint venture with state-controlled China Film Group to make digital television programmes and feature films. see full profile for current activities
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