How Sony Pictures chief Tony Vinciquerra realigned the studio
You can learn a lot about a business by looking at what assets it buys and what assets it sells. Sony Pictures Entertainment has been busy for the past four and a half years with a constant flow of business activity.
Most of the deals haven’t made the headlines because they haven’t involved a lot of money compared to megabucks media mergers and acquisitions lately. But they have been indicators of how the company has positioned itself for the future under the leadership of Tony Vinciquerra, who took the reins as chief executive officer in mid-2017.
In the last episode of Variety âStrictly Businessâ podcast, the CEO explains how it became clear to him that the shift to streaming and on-demand platforms would reshape the entertainment economy.
âWe had hundreds of individual businesses here – many of which were losing money – with no hope of ever being profitable or being a significant part of the business,â says Vinciquerra. âWhen you’re running a business of this size and stature, it’s important that people focus on what they can build. Our people were spending time, effort and resources trying to fix those businesses that couldn’t be fixed. “
In recent years, Sony has sold in batches some of its holdings in international chains – outlets in the UK, Eastern Europe and Asia – to private investor groups. He sold the ad-supported streamer Crackle and the GSN Games unit which developed games for mobile and social media.
During the same period, Sony acquired the anime streaming service Crunchyroll, Bad Wolf Entertainment from producer Jane Tranter and the studio is in negotiations to acquire India’s Zee Entertainment.
Overall, Sony is less in the distribution asset market and more focused on content generation. Its branded channels in Asia, for example, licensed most of their programming. Crunchyroll, which will be integrated into Sony’s existing Funimation unit, is an established anime distributor that also creates its own content.
Anime is an example of Sony investing in what Vinciquerra calls âcommunities of interestâ or niche markets that lend themselves to strong fan interest that can itself be monetized. This approach worked well on the films side of Sony Pictures’ Culver City bundle, where the focus on franchising helped make the unit profitable. “Jumanji”, “Ghostbusters” and “Spider-Man” are examples of “universes” that will be explored in depth through sequels and spinoffs.
âWe first had to eliminate the dysfunction of the film industry that had been there for so many years,â says Vinciquerra. Under the direction of film group chief Tom Rothman, the studio has narrowed its list of producer deals in favor of engagements with “people who we know will be productive,” he adds.
Vinciquerra has extensive television experience as a station group leader and longtime leader of the Fox Networks group. He’s the first to admit that the television upheaval in the studio’s lucrative series production business is barely over. Sony is finding its way as the industry shifts to one driven by total volume of shows rather than a big syndication score. Namely, Vinciquerra points to the profit potential of Sony Pictures TV’s ABC drama series âThe Good Doctor,â now in its fifth season.
â’The Good Doctor’ is a great show, but it’s not the home run it could have been 10 years ago,â he says.
No discussion of recent events at Sony Pictures would be complete without a mention of the regime change at âJeopardyâ that sparked so much drama earlier this year. Vinciquerra refuses to go into details regarding Mike Richards’ short tenure as host of the game show. Richards’ four-day stay came to an end after old podcast episodes in which he made sexist and sophomoric remarks resurfaced.
The podcast was junk news that escaped Sony’s substantive Richards research. But Vinciquerra makes no apologies for supporting the host’s selection based on the information he had at the time.
âWithout knowing it, I would have made the same decision because he was the guy who had tested the best,â he says.