Sony‘s indefatigable top PR guy Steve Elzer will be leaving the studio in December after a 12-year run. It has to do with a consolidation of the department and the recent hiring of Charlie Sipkins. Elzer will stay to assist Marc Weinstock and Sipkins in the transition, and then he will look for another job. Elzer spent eight years at New Line, during the craziest times when that company soared and gave the majors a run for their money.
Like every journalist who exists in this showbiz bubble, i have butted heads with Elzer on occasion, but he has been one of the longest-running acts in a high stress business because he is unfailingly honest and principled. He’s also an easy guy to root for. Particularly when he went through a cancer scare over the past two years. He beat it, his health is fine now, and his hair has grown back. And watching Elzer’s enthusiasm as he worked the craps tables in Las Vegas during those ShoWest fests from my days at Daily Variety, now that was a sight to behold. It was a little like watching Fred Flintstone when he gambled in that 60s cartoon. Steve will find another job right quick, I bet.
The company is telling analysts and investors to hold November 21 for a “Sony Entertainment Investor Day” to be held at the Sony Pictures Entertainment lot in Culver City. No word on why — or who’ll be there. But this appears to be a follow up to a promise that CEO Kazuo Hirai made last month to Third Point CEO Daniel Loeb: After rejecting the hedge fund owner’s proposal to create a new stock for entertainment and sell a minority stake to the public, Hirai said that he would ”increase disclosure regarding Sony’s entertainment businesses. We agree this can help market participants analyze their performance and monitor their success.” Loeb stung the company over the summer, charging that Sony “has plenty of reasons to worry about Entertainment”, which he said generated lower profit margins than its competitors. George Clooney came to Sony’s defense in a conversation with my colleague Mike Fleming Jr., calling Loeb a “carpetbagger”. Hirai said that the board “unanimously concluded that continuing to own 100% of our entertainment business is the best path forward and is integral to Sony’s strategy.” Loeb is an investor in Variety with Deadline’s parent company, PMC.
Related: Daniel Loeb In Retreat: Backs Off Sony, Praises … Read More »
It’s hard to sell 4K television sets to people if they have little to watch on them. Sony hopes to break through that dilemma today with the introduction of Video Unlimited 4K, which it says is the only download service with Ultra HD movies and TV shows. It begins with about 70 full length feature films from Sony Pictures Entertainment and “other notable production houses” — with the library expected expand to pass 100 by year end — the company says. Customers can access TV shows including Breaking Bad, and movies such as Moneyball, Think Like A Man, Premium Rush, Ghostbusters, The Amazing Spider-Man, Funny Girl, and The Guns Of Navarone. Recent films This Is The End, After Earth and Elysium also will be available when they hit home video. A 24-hour rental for a TV show costs $3.99 while a movie goes for $7.99. Users can buy a movie for $29.99. Some titles will include UltraViolet streaming rights in HD or standard definition. The Ultra HD 4K format has about four times the resolution of an HDTV.
David Bloom is a Deadline contributor.
PlayStation Group CEO and president Andrew House told a press event at the big GamesCon conference in Germany today that the company’s next-generation game console, the PS4, will be released November 15 in North America and two weeks later in Europe. The release date was the last significant unknown about the PS4, which had been substantially unveiled in June, just before the E3 game convention in Los Angeles. The new console will be priced at $399 in the United States, 399 euros in Europe and 349 pounds in the UK. The company already has had more than 1 million pre-orders of the new machine, House said. It also unveiled a program with game companies Ubisoft, Warner Bros, EA and Activision that will allow buyers of the next installments of several top franchises who buy a version for the current PlayStation 3 to upgrade to a digital copy of the PS4 version of the game for “a significantly discounted price,” House said. “We see this as a way to reward PS3 gamers for their loyalty,” House said.
The two electronics giants are angling to show off their new gadgets ahead of the introduction of new iPhones, iPads and other products from rival Apple, Bloomberg reports. Along with the Note III phone/tablet hybrid, Samsung’s roster includes a wristwatch/smartphone hybrid to be called Galaxy Gear and powered by Google’s Android system. It will be able to surf the web and handle emails, Bloomberg said citing people familiar with the matter. Both products are to be introduced September 4. On the same day, Sony will unleash its latest Xperia handset which includes imaging sensors used in its TVs and cameras. Xperia, which connects to Sony’s entertainment content, is seen as key to helping the company report a profit in the fiscal year that will end March 2014. Meanwhile, Apple’s new devices will be unveiled at a September 10 event, a source told Bloomberg. Earlier this year, Apple CEO Tim Cook said there were “surprises” in the works with “some really great stuff coming in the fall and across all of 2014.” Among those products, company watchers expect Apple to introduce wristwatches that communicate with its iPhones and a TV that integrates conventional and online video. The Samsung and Sony announcements will hit just ahead of the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin. No word on how Samsung will introduce its new products. When it unveiled the Galaxy S4 in March, it … Read More »
It just might if it frightens them enough to accelerate their efforts to make people pay for broadband based on how much they use — the same way they pay for electricity or water. ”This isn’t just a side show,” independent analyst Craig Moffett says. “This is THE central issue defining the value of the cable industry going forward.” And the pricing model could rock streaming companies including Netflix or, perhaps, Sony. It would be “a material risk” to Netflix’s prospects if a Sony-Viacom agreement leads to usage-based pricing, Bernstein Research’s Carlos Kirjner says. Read More »
This could be a big breakthrough for tech companies that want to create an Internet-based alternative to traditional cable and satellite services. The Wall Street Journal reports that Sony has a preliminary agreement to carry Viacom‘s channels on a service it hopes to launch by year end. The programming would initially go to those with Sony devices including its PlayStation gaming console and Bravia HDTVs, with tablets and smartphones to follow according to “a person familiar with the matter.” If Sony and Viacom complete their deal it would be the first time a major programmer has agreed to provide its most popular pay TV channels to an online service. Intel and Google are among the other companies hoping to use the Internet to challenge cable and satellite video offerings. Sony’s talking with other programmers including Disney, Time Warner, and CBS.
Related: Google Wants To Launch Online Pay TV Service: WSJ
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George Clooney directs and heads a killer cast in period dramatic thriller The Monuments Men. Based on the true story of one of the greatest treasure hunts in history, The Monuments Men focuses on an unlikely World War II platoon, tasked by FDR with going into Germany to rescue artistic masterpieces from Nazi thieves and returning them to their rightful owners. Not easy with the art trapped behind enemy lines and the German army under orders to destroy everything as the Reich fell. But the Monuments Men — seven museum directors, curators and art historians — risk their lives to protect and defend mankind’s greatest achievements. Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, and Cate Blanchett also star. Clooney and Grant Heslov penned the screenplay based on the book by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter. Sony releases the pic on December 18. Check out the trailer:
Nikki Finke who is on vacation will have a fuller Loeb vs Sony report soon.
Apparently, The Most Hated Man In Hollywood just wasn’t comfortable being labeled “The Most Dangerous Man To Our Industry” by George Clooney for all the world to read (via Mike Fleming’s exclusive Deadline interview and carried by Yahoo this past weekend). So now Third Point hedge fund CEO Daniel Loeb claims today he’s backing off Sony. But only after the putz created chaos and confusion inside a stable and successful studio, destabilized Michael Lynton’s and Amy Pascal’s and Jeff Blake’s management because two summer films After Earth and White House Down bombed at the domestic box office in what is a cyclical business, and imperiled many current jobs and future projects there. It’s disgusting. Not only does he seek to profit from the misfortunes of countries (Greece) and corporations (Sony after Howard Stringer crashed and burned the once great electronics giant), but in this case bullies a major entertainment company to the brink. Now Loeb will simply retreat to his East Coast dream homes and not give Hollywood another thought until the next time he feels the urge to kvetch. Kudos to Clooney for having the balls to hold up Loeb to public scorn. And congrats to Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai for not panicking or pressuring top executives to leave just to appease Loeb. Nice work, too, by producer Lynda Obst who gave a very forceful and cogent defense of SPE on CNBC yesterday. As for Ashton Kutcher and his worthless opinion, let’s see how his career careens when his Jobs indie flops and CBS/Warner Bros no longer pays him to make Two And A Half Men even more unwatchable.
Related: Sony Rejects Daniel Loeb’s Entertainment Spinoff Proposal
Loeb today did an about-face and claimed to Variety he was backing off Lynton, Pascal, et al: “We support Hirai, and to the extent that he supports his management team and they can meet the board’s initiatives around transparency and profit margin improvement, I see no reason [the current executives] cannot do that. It is a decision for Mr. Hirai to make.” This is after Hirai sent a letter to Third Point (which owns 7% of Sony) and rejected Loeb’s unsolicited proposal to spinoff Sony’s entertainment unit. Suddenly Loeb was calling Hirai’s letter “thoughtfully written and detailed in its discussion of profitability and transparency. There was a lot there for shareholders to hang their hats on.” Loeb also admitted “it is probably unfair to focus on one or two bad movies, just in the way that Third Point from time to time can have one or two bad months or a bad year. … We’re really not focused on individual movies or their slate. I know I mentioned that in the last letter, but at this point it is more productive to support management and the goals advanced by Mr. Hirai in his letter.”
Loeb clearly never counted on being outed by Clooney for “knowing nothing about our business” and dissed so publicly and forcefully and publicly by the filmmaker. Loeb replied: “Notwithstanding the fact that the media likes to create a stir, I admire Mr. Clooney’s passion for Sony and his loyalty to Sony and his friends there.” But Loeb nervily suggested he and Clooney share a “common goal: a more disciplined company with better allocation of capital means less money spent on bureaucracy and more investment in motion pictures. We are all for intelligent investment in creative content. I believe our interests are aligned in a way he probably doesn’t realize.” Read More »
UPDATE: The battling continues in this war of words. Daniel Loeb’s hedge fund Third Point tonight made clear it won’t stop destabilizing Sony and its entertainment division after the Japanese parent company rejected Daniel Loeb’s pressure to spinoff its showbiz unit. Third Point said it will “explore further options to create value for shareholders” and “welcomes Sony’s commitment to greater transparency and expects this will foster a culture of accountability. Sony has clearly recognized the performance issued we identified. In the new spirit of transparency, management should communicate more specific plans to improve entertainment results. A renewed focus on profitability and better margins should reduce bureaucracy and thus free up resources to invest in high quality motion pictures, filmed entertainment, networks and music, aligning shareholder interests, the creative community and consumers.”
Earlier today, Sony told Third Point CEO Daniel Loeb today it is rejecting his proposal to create a stock for its entertainment assets and then sell up to a 20% stake to the public. The board has “unanimously concluded that continuing to own 100% of our entertainment business is the best path forward and is integral to Sony’s strategy,” CEO Kazuo Hirai says in a letter to the hedge fund manager. “We do, however, expect to increase disclosure regarding Sony’s entertainment businesses.” Hirai adds that he’s “very focused on increasing margins at [Sony] Pictures.” That’s a particular sore point for Loeb, especially following the box office results for After Earth and White House Down, which he said last week “bombed spectacularly.” In response, actor George Clooney told my colleague Mike Fleming Jr. that Loeb is “a carpet bagger…who is trying to spread a climate of fear that pushes studios to want to make only tent poles.” Hirai says that he’ll cut costs while also “aggressively investing in our global television production business” and “building upon our diversified film slate strategy.” He notes that Sony has “instituted an even more exacting ‘green light’ process for film production, focusing more intensively on overall slate profitability as well as per film returns-on-investment.” Sony’s decisions were based on its belief that demand for premium content will grow “at unprecedented levels” as broadband and mobile devices become nearly ubiquitous. Shareholders “will benefit from owning all, rather than a part, of these valuable [content] assets.” Loeb is an investor in Variety with Deadline’s parent company, PMC.
The letter follows below:
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The new report should provide more fodder for the campaign by hedge fund titan Daniel Loeb to revamp Sony’s entertainment operations. With disappointing results from After Earth and a drop in home video sales, Sony says today that the studio’s revenues “decreased significantly” in Q2. The results are complicated, though. When you factor in currency exchange rates, a $106M gain from the sale of Sony Pictures’ music catalog, and higher TV ad sales in India, the Pictures unit’s revenues increased 3.6% vs the period last year to $1.6B with operating income of $38M, up from a loss. Sony’s music operation did better with help from releases including Pink’s The Truth About Love and Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience. Its sales improved 13.3% to $1.1B with operating income +48.1% to $109M. Despite the weak movie numbers, investors pushed Sony shares up 3.6% in pre-market trading as the electronics company generated a $35M profit, reversing a loss in last year’s quarter, on revenues of $17.3B, +13%. Smartphone sales were up, and the financial services operation did well — although R&D expenses for the upcoming PlayStation 4 contributed to an operating loss for the Game segment.
It’s no more Mr. Nice Guy for the founder of hedge fund Third Point, a major investor in Sony. In a letter to his investors today, Daniel Loeb says he’s fed up with the performance of the electronics giant’s movie, TV, and music businesses — which he wants Sony to package in a separate stock, with a minority stake sold to the public. “We were surprised that after Entertainment’s highly touted big budget summer releases — After Earth and White House Down — bombed spectacularly at the box office, CEO [Kazuo] Hirai, speaking at the Allen & Co. Sun Valley conferences a few weeks ago, brushed off these failures saying: ‘I don’t worry about the Entertainment business, it’s doing just fine’,” Loeb says. Calling the films “2013′s versions of Waterworld and Ishtar,” Loeb says it’s “perplexing” that Hirai gave “free passes” to Sony Pictures Entertainment Co-CEOs Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal, who he called “the executives responsible for these debacles.” Loeb adds that he’s concerned about the studio’s pipeline, which he describes as “bleak, despite overspending on numerous projects.” And the television business “relies on old Merv Griffin Production workhorses like Jeopardy! and Wheel Of Fortune” but “has no hit network television shows, only one major syndicated network show, the Dr. Oz Show, and has missed the market for unscripted television.” Loeb says a stock offering would make the operation more transparent and … Read More »
Ross Lincoln contributes to Deadline’s Comic-Con coverage.
Andrew Garfield revealed today that the Spider-Man story he’d most like to see made into a film is one that is legally impossible, at least for the moment. “I’d love to see [Spider-Man] with The Avengers,” he said, to audible gasps, during the Sony Pictures panel discussion of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 at Comic-Con. “Wouldn’t that just be awesome? Just saying.”
Sadly for everyone drooling at the prospect of Spider-Man joining that Marvel superhero squad, it’s not going to happen as long as Sony retains the rights to the character. And judging by the presentation during tonight, the company expects to retain them for the foreseeable future. Sony clearly expects Amazing Spider-Man 2 to be a huge hit. During the first half of the discussion, the participants — co-stars Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan and, eventually, Garfield, along with director mark Webb and producers Ari Avad and Matt Tolmach — didn’t even attempt to sell the movie; instead, after a short film depicting him attempting to sneak into Hall H, Garfield appeared dressed and in character as Spider-Man, then spent 10 minutes wisecracking with the cast.
Related: Comic-Con: Jamie Foxx’s ‘Electro Arrives’ Clip
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Investors who bet on media should have warm memories from Q2. The Dow Jones U.S. Media Index rose 6.0% in the quarter vs. the Standard and Poor’s 500 which was +2.4%. Sony led the Big Media pack with its share price rising 21.8% in the quarter. It was followed by Disney (+11.2%), Viacom (+10.7%), News Corp (+6.8%), CBS (+4.7%), Time Warner (+0.3%), and Comcast (-0.5%). More broadly in media, TV station owners were among the biggest winners led by Sinclair (+44.8%) and LIN (+39.2%). Others that paid off in the quarter include DreamWorks Animation (+35.3%), Pandora (+29.9%), E.W. Scripps (+29.6%), Live Nation (+25.3%), and Best Buy (+23.4%). While most gained, the sector had a hodgepodge of losers including newspaper publisher McClatchy Co (-21.4%), TiVo (-10.8%), Apple (-10.5%), IMAX (-7.0%), AOL (-5.3%), Cinemark (-5.2%), and Discovery (-1.9%).
Under Section 219 of the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012, companies are required to disclose any transactions with people or entities sanctioned under programs relating to terrorism or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. That’s why Sony Corp. reported in an SEC filing on Thursday that $12.8M of goods it sold to dealers in Dubai were resold in Iran, including to groups that are under U.S. sanctions. Tech equipment including security cameras, medical instruments and broadcasting gear was resold, or planned to be resold, to Iran’s state broadcasting unit and to the information technology department of the Iranian Police, among others, Sony said in the filing. The company noted that it “maintains policies and procedures designed to ensure that its transactions with Iran and elsewhere have been conducted in accordance with applicable economic sanctions, laws and regulations and do not involve transactions likely to result in the imposition of sanctions or other penalties on Sony.” However, if any government engaged in the sanctions were to disagree, the impact of penalties or sanctions “could be material,” Sony said. Third-party transactions may be made in the future, but Sony said it intends to conduct any such sales in accordance with applicable law.
Listen to (and share) Episode 40 of our audio podcast Deadline Big Media, With David Lieberman. Deadline’s executive editor talks with host David Bloom about Daniel Loeb‘s latest efforts to persuade Sony to partly spin off its entertainment units; whether it’s time to dump the FCC decency rules; DreamWorks Animation’s global TV play; and whither Liberty Media and Charter now that talks have cooled on a possible purchase of Time Warner Cable.
Deadline Big Media, Episode 40 (MP3 format)
Deadline Big Media, Episode 40 (MP4a format) Read More »
Earlier this week the CEO of hedge fund Third Point, Daniel Loeb, reiterated his desire for Sony to sell a minority interest in its entertainment assets. The fund now controls 6.9% of the conglomerate and Loeb believes CEO Kazuo Hirai should chair Sony, and a board specially created for the movie, TV, and music properties if the company follows Third Point’s proposal to sell as much as a 20% stake in them to the public. At Sony’s annual shareholders meeting in Tokyo on Thursday, Hirai said the company would “appropriately” consider Third Point’s proposal, but indicated a decision would not be imminent. “The entertainment business plays an important role in Sony’s future growth… This proposal strikes at the heart of what kind of company Sony ultimately will become in the future. We intend to take our time in discussing it,” he said, according to Dealbook. Some analysts are not so bullish on Sony spinning off the entertainment assets. In an open letter ahead of the meeting, Jefferies’ Atul Goyal suggested the company should spin off electronics instead. Read More »
The hedge fund’s CEO Daniel Loeb disclosed the change, and reiterated his desire for Sony to sell a minority interest in its entertainment assets, in a letter today to Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai. Loeb says that he now controls 70M shares or 6.9% of the total valued at $1.4B, up from the $1.1B stake at 6.4% he held last month. “Given our large stake, we reiterate our offer to serve on Sony’s Board of Directors,” he adds. Loeb believes that Hirai should chair Sony, and a board created for the movie, TV, and music properties if the company follows Third Point’s proposal to sell as much as a 20% stake in them to the public. The entertainment board should include “diverse individuals with deep knowledge of media, entertainment and digital technology, who value creative talent and can institute best practices of governance.” While the letter is respectful — not always a trait in Loeb’s missives to CEOs — he pointedly notes that “Our research has confirmed media reports depicting Entertainment as lacking the discipline and accountability that exist at many of its competitors.” As a result, the operations would be “strengthened by the transparency that comes with public reporting, an active media analyst community evaluating financial performance regularly, and an expert Board with strongly aligned incentives.” Loeb also says that Third Point has “not yet been asked to discuss our ideas with the Company’s investment bankers … Read More »
David Bloom is a Deadline contributor.
Sony’s big annual pre-E3 media briefing Monday night set up a potentially brutal price competition with Microsoft’s next-gen game console this holiday season, with the PlayStation 4 costing $100 less than the Xbox One. As predicted, Sony also touted more of the PS4’s entertainment capabilities than it did in an initial unveiling event in February, even inviting Sony Entertainment Chairman Michael Lynton onstage for the first time. Lynton promised enhanced video and music programming on the PlayStation Network online service, with content tailored for gamer interests.
“Sony Pictures will do everything in our power to drive the success of the PlayStation 4 by developing programming with gamers in mind and providing access to incredible content,” Lynton said. The Video Unlimited and Music Unlimited services will launch the same day as the PS4. Sony also will add the Flixster online movie service to the PlayStation Network later this year, joining apps there for such streaming services as Netflix and Hulu. Read More »