Correcting reports online that the studio was exiting the sitcom business, Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman and CEO Tony Vinciquerra clarified at BofA’s remote conference that the company was “significantly in the comedy business, to be very clear” — just not so much on the broadcast side.
“The broadcast model for comedies doesn’t work anymore,” he said. “The streaming model works great and we’re producing lots of comedies for streamers.”
He cited the recent premiere of Sony-produced “Woke” on Hulu, and said the independent studio has several other comedies in development.
“For broadcast networks, the model just doesn’t work where the broadcast network would pay a fee for the show that is significantly less than the production cost for that show is, and then we have to monetize it around the world,” said Vinciquerra. “That what’s we’ve taken the emphasis off of, and put more emphasis on the streaming side.”
Speaking with BofA analyst Jessica Reif Ehrlich, Vinciquerra said that it has greatly reduced participating in the TV deficit financing model, given that there’s “little chance to hit home runs” like “The Blacklist,” which can get to four to five seasons and then prove lucrative for the studio.
The SPE chief noted separately that pandemic-era TV and film production has meant fewer people on set and “a lot more” efficiency, testing and safety protocols. The “unexpected advantage” of these new procedures is that the studio is taping more episodes in less time and is learning to produce programming in a more efficient manner.
One particular game show currently filming on the Sony lot was expected to shoot 12 episodes across four days, but wound up shooting 17. Another Sony-produced game show in New York filmed 26 half-hour episodes in five days.
“Efficiencies are really happening, so we’re really excited to see that go into the future, he said.
Production has recently ramped up aggressively on the TV side, said Vinciquerra, and that Sony is selling a great deal of shows and “feeling good about it.”
On the film side, theaters have yet to reopen in full force, but when they do, he sees a “tremendous backlog” offering viewers a smorgasbord of viewing options, then a lull, before the industry normalizes again.
Sony’s slate is “fluid,” said Vinciquerra carefully, when asked about the studio’s theatrical plans for the next couple of years.
“What we won’t do is make the mistake of putting a very, very expensive $200 million movie on the market unless we’re sure theaters are open and operating at a significant capacity,” he said. “We’ve changed our release schedule pretty dramatically.”
When asked if Sony would send movies straight to premiere video-on-demand services, Vinciquerra said that over the next five or six months, some “very unique things” may happen. A backlog of films that are ready to go means that studios may be likelier to offload them onto non-theatrical platforms out of necessity.
“We have sold three movies to streamers… because we couldn’t find a place to date them, so we sold them for a profit,” he said, but maintained that the studio is a “big supporter of the theater distribution model.”
The long-term impacts on the business of the COVID-19 crisis are still unclear, but there will be “unanticipated legacies coming from this,” surmised Vinciquerra.