Lee ankles Col biz for post at X-Box

Move follows shake-up in the motion picture group

In a surprise departure, Bryan Lee is ankling his post as Columbia Pictures’ executive veepee of business affairs for a job in computer gaming.

Lee, a vet of the company since 1987, is expected to join the executive ranks of Microsoft’s first vidgaming console venture. The X-Box is due in stores next Christmas, according to insiders familiar with his plans.

As a direct competitor to Sony’s PlayStation platform — a device that accounts for nearly 40% of Sony’s revenues — X-Box will likewise be a CD ROM-based unit that will also have the capability to play DVDs and provide Internet access.

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Any connection X-Box’s exec ranks might have to the entertainment industry would be most welcome, given the growing awareness level that movie titles afford vidgame makers. Game titles are in development for such pics as Sony’s forthcoming “Spider-Man” (via Activision) as are titles based on New Line’s 1998 “Blade” due out this fall also from Activision, DreamWorks’ “Chicken Run” (from Eidos Intertactive, in stores imminently) and Fox’s “Titan AE” from Fox Interactive, due out this winter.

Interestingly, Lee had little if anything to do with Sony’s PlayStation division and has little experience in the vidgame biz as a whole.

Move follows shake-up

Lee’s ankling of Col as capo de biz affairs comes just steps behind a shake-up of business affairs at the Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group. In an equally surprising move Peter Schlessel, exec veepee for business affairs and acquisitions at Sony’s specialty arm Screen Gems was named prexy of production at Columbia Pictures last Friday.

But a spokeswoman for the studio contends that the two events “have nothing to do with one another,” adding that “when we looked down the road at our long-range plans, we realized that our needs and Bryan’s desires were not in synch, and we all decided to do something about it sooner rather than later.”

Lee declined to comment on his departure, which a Sony spokeswoman confirmed.

His duties will be taken over by Robert Geary, himself an exec veepee at the biz affairs unit. A lawyer by training, Geary is a 10-year vet of both TriStar, and later, Col’s business affairs departments.

(Ann Donahue contributed to this report.)

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