Ex-CBS b'cast prexy fills Schulhof void

Former CBS Broadcast prexy Howard Stringer was officially named president of the newly configured Sony Corp. of America on Thursday, filling the void left after Michael Schulhof ankled the high-tech software firm 16 months ago.

The move, which was widely expected (Daily Variety, April 4), ideally will position Sony to exploit new technologies and digital distribution for its software divisions — Sony Music, Sony Pictures and Sony Electronics.

Based in New York, he will report directly to parent Sony Corp. president and chief operating officer Nobuyuki Idei. But unlike in Schulhof’s regime, none of the entertainment branches will report to him.

When Schulhof left Sony a year after a $3.2 billion loss in the film division, those three arms were altered to report directly to Tokyo. Sony Corp. of America was relegated to a shell status with little jurisdiction.

It was unclear which divisions, if any, will report to the SCA president’s office now as music, pictures and electronics branches will continue to report to Idei.

Stringer assumes the job May 5.

Sony, in its release, outlined Stringer’s duties as strategic planning, new business development, general financial responsibilities and overall business coordination. Stringer will work with Sony Pictures under president John Calley, Sony Music under topper Tommy Mottola and Sony Electronics under Carl Yankowski with an eye toward expansion in digital distribution and new media. But sources said he will have no “operating responsibilities” for those companies.

Idei is hoping that Stringer can help the technology giant move into the forefront of marrying entertainment and technology.

One industry insider suggested that Stringer’s appointment was similar to that of former Disney president Michael Ovitz, who was given a lofty title at the Mouse with no formal divisional reporting structure beneath him.

Idei, in a statement, said Stringer would bring experience for Sony to such areas as the Internet, digital broadcasting and computer technologies.

“To secure Sony’s future in these fields, we need a strong, well-focused U.S. strategic presence,” Idei said. “Mr. Stringer’s broad experience will be a tremendous asset and I look forward to working with him in coordinating the initiatives of our U.S. hardware and software operations.”

Insiders, however, are wondering what that will actually mean. One Sony exec cited Stringer’s presence as duty-free, but said he will provide the face that Idei needs to take the entertainment divisions public on Wall Street.

Street savvy

Sources said Stringer is well-known to the Wall Street community and would suitably fit the role. But any public offering for Sony divisions isn’t likely for another two years.

Asked at a news briefing in New York about a public offering in the next few years, Idei said it was not in the current plans for Sony.

But the Tokyo tech topper firmly maintained that Stringer’s presence would be critical in the coming two years when a number of key strategic decisions are made for Sony regarding the distribution and exploitation of content.

Stringer also will help Sony establish New York as its second base, an idea that was outlined by Idei last November at a meet with media on the Sony Pictures Entertainment lot.

Stringer was paraded before a few chosen reporters in the Sony Gotham headquarters Thursday. He said when he was at CBS, he felt the network was an “island” that did not reach in that many directions.

After CBS, when he went to Tele-TV as chairman and CEO, he realized that the new technologies were the “vanguard of change.” Stringer said he never wanted to be in a position where he was “behind” again.

Digital ‘dreams’

In a statement, Stringer added: “I’m delighted to join Sony, whose vision and integrity define the global standard for media giants. I can’t think of a better place to continue to pursue dreams of digital deliverance. And I want to thank Mr. Idei for inviting me to be a part of the Sony family.”

The job will reunite Stringer with Sony Pictures Entertainment co-president Jeff Sagansky, who was with Stringer at CBS in the 1980s and early ’90s. Sagansky formerly ran the entertainment division for the web.

Along with Stringer’s announcement, Sony named Ted Masaki as deputy president of SCA reporting to Stringer.

Masaki succeeds Ted Kawai, who heads back to Japan as a senior general manager of Intl. Marketing Center. His promotion takes effect June 1.

Henny now CFO

Nick Henny, exec VP of SCA, will also assume expanded responsibilities as chief financial officer for the company, effective immediately. Henny will work with Tamotsu Iba, exec deputy president and representative director for Sony.

Stringer was president of CBS Broadcast Group from 1988-95. Before that, he was prexy of CBS News and in 30 years with the web served in key editorial and management positions, including exec producer of the “CBS Evening News With Dan Rather” and the award-winning “CBS Reports.”

In March 1995, Stringer was named chairman and CEO of the now drastically downsized Tele-TV, the company formed by three telcos — Bell Atlantic, NYNEX and Pacific Telesis.

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