Sony’s smiling

Record pix, music revenues boost year

NEW YORK — Sony Corp. reported Thursday that net income for fiscal 1998 and the fourth quarter was up 59.2% and 68.2%, respectively, on double-digit sales gains, with the pictures and music divisions both turning in solid performances.

Sony Pictures Entertainment, aided by record revenues and strong video sales, reported a 46.7% increase in full-year revenues to $4.9 billion, and a 22.9% increase in operating income to $269 million.

Sony Music, meanwhile, achieved its fifth consecutive record year by increasing sales 17.3% to $5.3 billion and operating income by 19.6% to $409.7 mil-lion.

For the entire corporation, Sony’s year revenues were up 19.3% to $51.2 billion, and its operating income was up 40.5% to $3.9 billion.

The company didn’t release net-income or quarterly figures by operating segment, and it attributed 8% of its reported gains, when translated into dollars, to the depreciation of the yen.

Although the game division, with sales up 72.3% to $5.5 billion and operating income up 105% to $886 million, served as the company’s driving force, Sony’s pride in its picture and music divisions — previously lumped together as Sony Entertainment — was unmistakable.

Film and vids major successes

The picture group counted “Men in Black,” “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and “Air Force One” as major successes for the year — all of which, along with the earlier release “Jerry Maguire,” were said to produce strong sell-through video sales. “Men in Black” sold more than 14 million units, for example, while none of the titles mentioned sold fewer than 7 million.

The picture group also got a boost from its television operations, which reported “continued strong performance” from gameshows “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!,” as well as more than respectable syndication revenues for “Seinfeld” and “Mad About You.” Sony noted the syndication revenues will become significantly greater when the second cycle kicks in later this year.

Summed up a Sony Pictures insider: “There was strong profit growth in all core content businesses — moderated, somewhat, by losses on international TV ventures and by investment spending in digital entertainment.”

‘Titanic’ buoys music

The music group rode out rough industry conditions, as its “Titanic” soundtrack and related Celine Dion release, “Let’s Talk About Love,” proved as unsinkable as the movie itself. The two albums, each with worldwide sales in excess of 19 million units, were the year’s biggest-selling releases, besting other top Sony performers such as Mariah Carey’s “Butterfly,” Oasis’ “Be Here Now” and Savage Garden’s eponymous debut from Down Under.

Sony said it expected to sustain its momentum musically thanks to soon-to-be-released soundtracks for “Godzilla” and “Ally McBeal,” as well as the next Gloria Estefan album.

Longer fiscal helps figures

It should be noted that both the picture and music divisions benefited from a longer fiscal 1998, as corporate Sony, seeking to put all divisions on the same reporting basis, extended the divisions’ previous fiscal year by one month. The extension was said to affect sales, but, for reasons left unexplained, had only minimal impact on income.

Of particular interest was the emergence of the United States as Sony’s primary market. The 28.2% sales gain recorded here last year brought the U.S. total to $15.9 billion, easily surpassing the $14 billion in total Sony sales attributed to Japan.