Sony Touts Unity of Entertainment Assets

Wrapping up an investor conference on the Sony lot on Thursday, Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai said that he is “not going to try to predict” whether the company would reconsider its decision not to spin off its entertainment assets into a minority stake.

At a Q&A with investors gathered on a soundstage at the Sony lot, one analyst asked whether the company would again take up the idea, advanced by Third Point’s Daniel Loeb earlier this year, if shareholders were not realizing the value of the entertainment assets in the marketplace two or three years from now.

“I am not going to predict what we will be doing in one year’s, two years’, three years’ time,” Hirai said. He added that the “bulk of future growth is going to come from the television production and music side” of the company.

Much of the morning highlighted the ways that Sony divisions have worked together, fulfilling Hirai’s mantra of a “one Sony.”

Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton said that “what I want to stress right now is that we in no way, shape or form have lost our commitment to the movie business,” adding that it was the “heart and soul” of the company.

He pointed to the “Spider-Man” franchise and said that plans were in the works to spin off ancillary villains. The company has been working on developing a “Venom” movie. But he said that a spinoff to the highly lucrative James Bond franchise would be up to producer Danjaq and MGM.

Addressing the earlier announcement that Sony would be trimming its slate to about 18 movies per year, from 23, Lynton said that as they looked at the “optimal number” of movies, “Part of it is how many movies can a marketing department handle in quality way.” He noted that 18 movies is 1½ per month.

“I do think that you need a certain number of movies to bring in enough revenue to cover the overhead of the distribution apparatus,” he said.

When asked what some of the risks are ahead, Lynton cited piracy, although he said that should drop as more legal digital platforms emerge. He also talked of shrinking windows as a way to alleviate the problem.

He added that the “real risk is being at the leading edge of where the audience is,” and “where we find ourselves tripped up is when we copycat or try to go after the sure thing. When we are behind the audience, that is where we find ourselves not doing what we should be doing.”

Hirai acknowledged that the company was looking at “other opportunities” for their PlayStation network beyond game-related audiences, following reports that the company was looking to develop a virtual multichannel video provider that would potentially compete against cable and satellite. He declined to go into specifics. Lynton said that Sony’s online streaming channel Crackle has been expanding internationally. “I expect to see it in a lot more places quite soon,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sony Music Entertainment CEO Doug Morris said that “the music industry is starting to turn the corner.” Digital revenues are seeing double-digit rates of growth, and sales of digital music in the U.S. are more than for the physical products, repping 58% of sales overall. Kevin Kelleher, executive VP and CFO, said that music revenue was projected to be $4.8 billion in 2015, with an operating income margin of 9.5%, and revenue flat to slightly up through 2017 and operating income growing in the mid- to high-single digits.

Hirai and Lynton acknowledged that Loeb’s Third Point, which holds about 7% of Sony Corp., was the reason for the investor conference. “It as the impetus for us to show our wares, which has been a pleasure, primarily,” Lynton said.

Loeb was not at the conference, as he had a prior commitment at the Robin Hood Investor Conference. Reps from Third Point were there, a spokeswoman said, but they had no immediate comment.

Shares of Sony closed at $18.65 on Thursday at the New York Stock Exchange, up 0.65%.

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