Sony Pictures Profits Climb to $628 Million As Group Earnings Slide

Sony Pictures Studio Culver City

Profits at Sony’s pictures division, which spans film, TV content and channels, climbed from $489 million in the previous financial year to $628 million in the year to March 2020. Revenues at the division climbed from $8.87 billion to $9.32 billion.

That stood in contrast to the sharply slowing figures at group level.

The Japanese electronics and entertainment conglomerate reported group profits down by 36% to $5.34 billion (JPY582 billion) for the 2019-2020 financial year that ended in March. Group revenues were down 5% at $75.7 billion (JPY8.26 trillion).

In early February, when reporting its third quarter financials, and before the coronavirus pandemic had crushed the global economy into recession, Sony increased its forecast of group revenue by 1% to $78 billion (JPY8.50 trillion) for the financial year ending March 31, 2020. It increased its guidance for 2019-20 net income by 9% to $5.41 billion (JPY590 billion). Even after the upward revisions, the forecast numbers represented declines compared with the 2018-19 fiscal year.

Sony now calculates that the coronavirus reduced its consolidated operating income by $623 million (JPY68 billion) in the full year period. Most of that negative impact came in its electronic product unit, in financial services, and in imaging hardware.

Sony estimated that the pictures and games and network services divisions both benefited fractionally as usage of content increased. But the music division took a modest hit due to a decrease in usage of music for TV advertisements, restaurants, bars, and due to the cancellation and postponement of events.

The pictures unit was helped by strong box office for theatrical releases “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” “Jumanji: The Next Level” and “Bad Boys for Life” and higher licensing revenues for Television Productions. But the sector’s results would have been $158 million (JPY17 billion) higher had there not been a further review of its channels portfolio.

“Sony has not been able to release a portion of its already completed titles in theaters. Due to restrictions on peoples’ movement, the production schedules of new motion pictures and television shows by Sony are significantly delayed around the world, especially in the U.S. As a result, in motion pictures, theatrical revenues and revenues generated after theatrical release, including home entertainment and television licensing sales, are expected to decrease. On the other hand, digital rental and sell-through revenues for films which Sony released theatrically prior to the spread of COVID-19 have been strong. In television productions, revenues are beginning to be impacted by delays in the delivery of shows to TV networks and digital distribution services. Due to a global reduction in advertising spending, advertising revenue in Media Networks is decreasing significantly, especially in India,” Sony said in a regulatory filing.

Music enjoyed a 5% revenue increase over the year to finish with $7.87 billion (JPY850 billion). But operating income at the division was down by more than a third from $2.15 billion (JPY232 billion) to $1.31 billion (JPY142 billion). Sales were lifted by music publishing, primarily resulting from the consolidation of EMI, but also by higher sales for recorded music driven by an increase in streaming revenues. The sector’s bottom line took a hit, however, from accounting changes relating to past acquisitions.

Games and network services recorded significant decreases in both revenue and operating income. Sales were down 14% to $18.3 billion (JPY1.98 trillion), while operating income was 23% lower at $2.20 billion (JPY238 billion). There were decreases in PlayStation4 hardware sales and lower games software sales, offset partially by increased sales of PlayStationPlus. At the end of March, PSPlus had 41.5 million subscribers, compared with 36.4 million a year earlier and 34.2 ,million in March 2018.

Speaking on a subsequent conference call with financial analysts, chief financial officer Hiroki Totoki said that, despite the coronavirus, hardware sales were currently being met through inventory. He said that final development of the PlayStation5 console is being made harder by travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders, but that it remains on course for a launch in the holiday season at the end of the calendar year.

While the group normally provides detailed financial guidance for the coming year, this time, with the coronavirus still ongoing,  Sony replaced that with fuzzy graphics and ranges of estimates predicting operating income declines for some business segments. This appeared to show operating income in the pictures division falling 40%-60% in the current year, and by 25%-35% in the powerhouse games division. Music appears to heading for a 20%-35% decrease this year.

Sony shares traded in Tokyo traded little changed at JPY7,069 apiece prior to the results announcement. In New York, overnight, Sony’s ADRs had closed at $65.59.

During the earnings call, Totoki said that Sony had prudently managed its financial resources and had close to $9 billion (JPY910 billion) of cash on its balance sheet at the March year end. A further $14.7 billion of credit and commercial paper programs are also unused and available. Totoki said that put Sony in a strong position to make strategic investments or acquisitions.

Sony recently agreed to pay $400 million for a minority stake in China’s animation and games-focused streaming platform Bilibili.