Conglom gets helping hand from webslinger

A superhero gave Sony a super summer, as hit sequel “Spider-Man 2” drove Sony Pictures to a 9% jump in revenue and helped parent Sony Corp. make up for weak showings in electronics and vidgames.

Released June 30, “Spider-Man 2” spun its web of theatrical profits almost entirely in the third quarter, with nearly $400 million in box office.

Company also claimed solid profits for the low-cost pics “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” and “Anacondas: Hunt for the Blood Orchid,” its other wide releases.

Overall, Sony Pictures generated $1.73 billion in the third quarter, up 9% from a year earlier. Net income was $247 million, compared to a $42 million loss last year.

The comparison was an easy one, however, as Sony was coping last year with the high-profile failure of “Gigli.”

Sony also performed well in homevid, citing “Hellboy” and “13 Going on 30” as solid hits, along with “Bad Boys II” and “S.W.A.T.” in pay-per-view.

Only segment that didn’t compare well was TV syndication, where Sony had no new releases this summer to match against last year’s “King of Queens.”

” ‘Spider-Man’ was the huge driver, but every single part of the studio has now operated above budget for the year,” Sony Picture Entertainment chairman-CEO Michael Lynton told Daily Variety.

Sony Corp. reported a 62% jump in net income to $479 million, thanks to the strong profitability of its movie and mobile phone businesses. Overall revenue was down 5% to $15.3 billion, due to slow sales in some of its biggest businesses.

Profits were affected by the strong yen and a $177 million restructuring charge.

Company’s vidgame unit took a 26% hit in revenue at $1.1 billion; profits were virtually flat. That was the result of slow sales for its PlayStation console as it prepares to launch a slimmed-down PlayStation 2 for the holidays and copes with the end of the current hardware cycle, which means lower prices and demand for hardware. PS2 software sales were up, though, particularly in the U.S. and Europe.

Sony’s U.S. music division disappeared off the books during the quarter following the Aug. 1 merger with BMG. Joint venture now is recorded as part of its equity interests. Its Japanese music division saw an 8% jump in revenue, though.

Japanese conglom and its equity partners struck a deal to acquire MGM during the quarter, but Sony won’t be recording any costs until the purchase closes in the middle of next year. Sony is contributing $300 million to the total cash price of nearly $3 billion, but will assume operational control of the studio.

In the current quarter, DVD should be Sony Pictures’ primary driver, with “Spider-Man 2” and the first two seasons of “Seinfeld” expected to be big sellers.

Games division also is prepping for the highly anticipated launch of the PlayStation Portable in Japan in December and North America in the winter.

Company upped its net income guidance for the fiscal year ending March 31 to approximately $1 billion from the previous $900 million.

Shares in Sony closed down 2% at $34.48 on Thursday.

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