Sony ups Stringer, Calley

Stringer's chairman, Calley's prexy & CEO

Sony Pictures Entertainment, looking to reward its senior brass for last year’s “successful growth” in its entertainment holdings, named Howard Stringer as chairman and John Calley as president and chief executive officer on Wednesday.

Wynne also tapped

Bob Wynne was also promoted to co-president and chief operating officer.

The top executives’ new titles represent a formalizing of working relationships that began when Stringer joined Sony from his post as chairman of Tele-TV in May 1997.

Stringer and Calley will report to Sony Corp. prexy Nobuyuki Idei. Wynne will continue to report to Calley.

Record B.O.

“We are very proud of the success, stability and vision that John Calley and Bob Wynne have brought to SPE,” said Idei. “Under their leadership, SPE has revitalized its motion picture operations and achieved record global box office performance.”

Sony said the new titles reflect the contributions of all three execs to the growth of Sony’s entertainment business over the last 18 months.

The announcement fueled the rumors that Stringer is being groomed to run the company. When he was brought into the Sony fold, many thought the studio might look to Stringer as an exec who was as familiar with Hollywood as he was with Wall Street.

Bridge tech and software

Until now, his duties have largely been focused on strategic planning. Idei said that in the role of chairman, Stringer is expected to bridge the technological and software areas of the company.

“Since joining Sony a year ago, Howard has worked tirelessly to bring all of our U.S. operations together and to further our overall strategic goals and relationships,” Idei said.

Stringer now holds several senior posts at Sony. He was named chairman of Sony Canada in July, 1997 and chairman of Sony Electronics in January, 1998. He will also retain his titles as president and chief operating officer of Sony Corp. of America.

The announcements also left open the question of whether Calley would retire at the end of the year as some have predicted.

Four years left

Calley, 67, has nearly four more years left on his contract. Last year, he asked Idei to let him concentrate solely on the film division, abdicating some of the corporate duties to Wynne and Stringer.

“Howard’s much more adroit and experienced in the digital universe, whereas my expertise has always been in the movie business,” Calley said.

Stringer has become an expert in emerging technologies since spending two years at Tele-TV, a failed effort by three telephone companies, Bell Atlantic Corp., Nynex Corp. and Pacific Telesis Corp., to produce interactive TV programming.

Before Tele-TV, Stringer spent 30 years with the CBS-TV network in various roles, culminating in his position as president of the CBS broadcast group from 1988 to 1995.

With digital TVs expected to hit the marketplace late this year, broadcasters and producers are being asked to make shows using digital signals as opposed to current analog formats.

Future visions

The future is filled with visions of digital satellite transmission, digital videodisc players and digital cameras, and Sony expects to be at the forefront of advancing technologies.

As president of Sony Corp. of America, chairman of Sony Electronics Inc. and chairman and chief executive of Sony Canada, Stringer has spent the past year centralizing Sony’s North American operations and plotting strategy.

Calley said Sony’s digital strategies are still being reviewed, and Stringer’s will be the company’s “one-stop evaluator” of new technology opportunities.

Sony acquired the Columbia and TriStar movie companies and studio in 1989 for about $6 billion to capitalize on what it believed was synergy between its video equipment and TV hardware and movies, videos and music software.

Suffered bad years

But Sony suffered through years of film flops, bad management and financial losses, culminating in a huge $3.2 billion in write-offs and losses at the studio in late 1994.

Before joining Sony, Calley had been president of United Artists Pictures Inc., a division of film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. From 1968 to 1981, he was a top executive at Warner Bros. film studio, serving at various times as president and vice chairman of worldwide film production.

Calley has led Sony Pictures’ film and TV operations since being named president and chief operating officer in October 1996, replacing Alan Levine.

He is widely credited with turning around troubled studio operations, shepherding blockbuster films like “Men In Black,” “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” and “Air Force One” into theaters in 1997.

(Reuters contributed to this report)

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