Fresh off the box-office success of “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” Sony honchos — chairman and CEO Tony Vinciquerra, studio chief Tom Rothman and newly-installed TV chief Mike Hopkins — held an all-hands meeting Thursday to talk about how Sony is positioning itself in the era of studio consolidation and fierce competition from streaming giants.
Thousands of employees from across the various studio divisions gathered inside Stage 15, the largest sound stage on the Culver City, Calif. studio lot. The meeting was also live-streamed internally to all Sony employees worldwide.
The gathering occurred amid a number of headwinds Sony faces, as well as changes like the sudden stepping down of Sony Corp. CEO Kaz Hirai in February. Seen as a big booster of the entertainment assets, Hirai’s departure sparked speculation of whether Sony’s film and television studios would be sold.
Sony increasingly stands out amid the shrinking studio landscape after a spate of merger-and-acquisitions announcements that include Disney’s bid for Fox film and TV assets and the ongoing effort by AT&T to acquire Time Warner. Sony Corp. CEO Kenichiro Yoshida sent an internal note company-wide on April 1, shortly after he started, which highlighted entertainment as one of three core businesses for Sony Corp. and reassured many at the studio.
Some insiders said they went into the meeting fearing bad news, perhaps a sale or layoffs, but were instead surprised by what was essentially a pep rally.
Thursday’s meeting wasn’t the first all-hands with Vinciquerra since he started last summer, but it served to show how Sony has begun to shake off the damage from years of box office flops such as “White House Down” and “Pixels,” management shakeups, and the devastating cyber attack that exposed Sony’s inner workings to the world and resulted in months of disastrous headlines.
During the roughly hour-and-20 minute meeting, Vinciquerra, Rothman and Hopkins largely focused on the positives and highlighted their strategy and did not take questions. A Sony spokesperson confirmed the meeting but declined to comment for this story.
Vinciquerra and Rothman said that while other studios are growing larger through acquisitions and focusing on building superhero franchises, Sony’s size will allow the studio to be nimble and focus on making mid-budget movies, like “Baby Driver.” The sleeper hit grossed $108 million domestically and earned strong critical acclaim, including three Oscar nominations and a Golden Globe best actor nomination for Ansel Elgort.
Rothman and Hopkins highlighted a number of recent film and television hits, according to a Sony insider who was present at the meeting.
On the film side, Sony has had a strong run of box-office successes, most notably with “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” which this week became the the studio’s highest-grossing film in its history, without adjusting for inflation. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan, the continuation of 1995’s “Jumanji” has now reached nearly $404 million at the domestic box office, breaking the record at Sony, which has been held by “Spider-Man” since 2002. The worldwide box office haul stands at $950 million. “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” a co-production with Marvel Studios, grossed $334 million domestically and $880 million worldwide.
Rothman also highlighted films like “Peter Rabbit,” which has grossed $113 million domestically, and heralded Sony Pictures Classics Oscar winners “Call Me By Your Name” and “A Fantastic Woman,” the Chilean feature about a transgender woman struggling after the sudden death of her boyfriends.
Known for his showmanship, Rothman came across as charming and funny, particularly when he spoke about Sony Picture Animation’s “The Emoji Movie,” which was panned by critics. It even earned a Razzie award for worst picture of 2017.
Rothman had the last laugh though, saying that he didn’t mind the Razzie so long as the film made money. “The Emoji Movie” grossed just $86 million domestically but made $217 million worldwide. Conspicuously missing from the rundown was box office dud “Proud Mary,” the action film starring Taraji Henson, which grossed just $21 million.
Vinciquerra, who became Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO last summer, said the studio is holding its own against studio giants like Disney, which stands to grow larger if its acquisition of Fox television and film assets is approved. Netflix and Amazon also pose major threats, spending billions of dollars on content and aided by a trove of data on consumer tastes and behaviors.
Sony will need to get better at finding and using data, Vinciquerra told the Sony workforce. All the divisions were represented, including Screen Gems, Sony Pictures Animation and TriStar.
Sony honchos also pledged to be more transparent about the studio’s financial performance, promising to go over with senior executives the quarterly results.
Studio employees were shown clips of upcoming Sony releases, including “The Equalizer 2,” sequel to the 2014 original, reteaming director Antoine Fuqua and star Denzel Washington. They also saw a clip of “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” a sequel to the Oscar-nominated “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”
Reaction to the clips and the meeting were very positive, the Sony insider said. “The whole thing was great for morale,” the source said, adding that it’s been years since employees emerged from a meeting feeling so upbeat.
On the TV front, Sony is feeling bullish. As an independent studio without a network, Sony has benefited from streaming habits as viewers have gravitated to television over movies. Sony’s Left Bank Pictures produces “The Crown,” the highly-acclaimed series on Netflix. Other successful shows include “Better Call Saul” and “The Good Doctor,” which has become a hit for ABC.
Sony’s meeting comes on the heels of town hall meetings held by 21st Century Fox president Peter Rice, who gave an update on the status of its acquisition by Disney.