TV Takes Center Stage Sony Pictures

International networks, TV production prospects get big push at Culver City meet

There was no mistaking the message at Sony Pictures’ investor presentation: TV is becoming a much bigger star on the Culver City lot.

Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton, Sony Pictures TV topper Steve Mosko and other execs emphasized that the studio is focused on growing its operations in high-margin TV sectors, notably growth of its international TV networks biz.

SEE ALSO: Sony to Trim Film Slate to Boost Profits

Those international channels have been big profit drivers for 21st Century Fox, Discovery Communications and other congloms. Sony generally is seen as ranking No. 3 to Fox and Discovery in its international footprint, and execs made it clear that investment in that area will grow in the coming years, even if it takes four to five years to generate significant profits from startup channels.

“We have created a global portfolio of network brands,” Mosko told the crowd of investors who gathered on the lot Thursday morning. He stressed that the media networks wing “would be the cornerstone of our growth strategy.”

The studio at present is up to 127 channels serving 150 countries, with a revenue growth rate of 24% during the past 10 years. Some 37% of that revenue comes from India, where the long-established Sony Entertainment Television channel is a major player.

Back home, the television production business — which was once such a drain on Sony Pictures profits that former boss Howard Stringer famously shuttered its primetime operation in 2001 — has rebounded strongly with the growth of digital licensing opportunities.

Sony Pictures TV production chiefs Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht cited “Breaking Bad” as an example of how even niche cable dramas have the potential to be cash cows. The AMC drama generated “10 times” the revenue initially projected for the series.

Riding that wave, the upcoming “Breaking Bad” spinoff “Better Call Saul” will be in the black from day one thanks to the bidding war that ensued for the show among AMC, FX, Netflix and other outlets.

The cheerleading for TV came in contrast with the discussion of the film biz’s challenges and Sony’s vow to trim its production slate and rein in costs. At present, Sony execs said TV accounts for 39% of the studio’s annual revenue, with international networks comprising 17% of that total.

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