The studio is coming off a rough patch that included a $962 million write-down of goodwill, fueled by losses in the film unit earlier this year. The television side has been successful in riding the tide of demand for high-end series around the world, but the unit has been operating without a clearly designated leader since the departure last year of former TV group chairman Steve Mosko. There’s also been a leadership vacuum at the top for nearly six months since Vinciquerra’s predecessor, Michael Lynton, announced his intention to exit.
Moreover, the contracts for most of the senior management of the TV division — including co-presidents Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg — are expiring before the end of the year. There’s been no movement on contract talks until the CEO succession decision was final, sources said. Now Vinciquerra will have essentially a matter of weeks to make a number of key calls. It’s no secret that many executives on the Culver City lot have been in the hunt for other jobs.
On top of all this, there’s the matter of leading Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) into the future as an independent studio operation at a time of further consolidation in media — witness the pending nuptials of AT&T and Time Warner.
In a reversal of fortune, Sony’s studio arm is now the laggard in the Tokyo-based giant that has enjoyed a turnaround in its electronics and manufacturing business during the past few years. Sony chief Kazuo Hirai has repeatedly stressed that he has no intention of selling the studio arm — even though the market might be ripe at the moment. Vinciquerra’s background working as a media and telecom advisor with private equity giant TPG during the past six years raised speculation that he was recruited to get the studio ready for a sale. It’s understood that Vinciquerra’s mandate from Hirai is to make SPE profitable in its current incarnation — not to dress it up for M&A options or to seek out a transformational acquisition. SPE also needs to work more closely with other Sony units, notably the PlayStation group and the platform it offers, and Sony Music. That’s a strategy that’s been articulated before — remember when the introduction of the Blu-ray technology was going to create a vast global network for Sony software and hardware products?
Those who have worked with Vinciquerra say he is well-equipped for the short-term and long-term challenges ahead. Vinciquerra got his start in broadcasting. He ran CBS-affiliated TV stations in Boston and Philadelphia in the 1980s and early ‘90s. He worked for the station arms of CBS and Hearst Television before joining the Fox network in January 2001. He rose through the ranks of the distribution side in a matter of months and was named head of Fox Networks Group, where he steered the domestic and international cable division during a period of rapid growth. He stepped down in 2011.
From his time at Fox, Vinciquerra developed a reputation as a great operational executive and manager of people. Stylistically, he’s known as a low-key, no-nonsense boss who is also a warm and considerate family man.
Of all his traits, it was Vinciquerra’s ability to think strategically about the future shape of a given business that most impressed his former boss Peter Chernin.
“I found him to be the single-most valuable strategic partner I had,” Chernin said. “Tony is one of the best strategic thinkers in the industry right now, and his scope has only been expanded over the past six years with his work at TPG and other digital companies.”
Chernin pointed to Vinciquerra’s success in managing Fox’s cable networks, particularly Fox’s regional sports networks, even though his background before coming to Fox was entirely in broadcasting.
“When he inherited the regional sports networks, we were basically a pure middleman with rights deals with a few teams,” Chernin said. Vinciquerra overhauled the way those deals were structured, shifting to long-term deals that made the cash-hungry franchises more dependent on the RSNs for revenue, among other changes.
“He turned that into a business that did just under a billion dollars in profit,” Chernin said.
Vinciquerra comes in to Sony at a time when the company has to wrestle with questions of where the film and TV business is headed and where Sony’s ideal place in the food chain should be. Among the toughest of those questions is the future direction of its film business, now headed by Vinciquerra’s former Fox colleague Tom Rothman. Vinciquerra’s lack of deep exposure to the film business made him a surprise choice for the studio CEO role, but Chernin has no doubt that he will rise to the challenge.
“He’s a broad-based smart business executive,” Chernin said. “He’s going to ask a bunch of smart questions, and he’ll know as much about the movie business in 18 months as anyone else.”