Music, games and pictures all contributed to a doubling of full year net profits at Sony, the Japanese electronics and entertainment group, despite disruptions caused by the coronavirus.
Reporting its financial results for the January to March quarter and 12-month results from April 2020 to March 2021, Sony said that annual sales increased by 9% to JPY9.00 trillion ($83.3 billion). Annual net income increased from JPY582 billion ($5.38 billion) in 2019-20, to JPY1.17 trillion in 2020-21 ($10.8 billion).
The pictures division, which incorporates the Sony Pictures movie studio, as well as TV networks and television production operations, increased its operating income from $628 million in 2019-20 to $762 million for 2020-21, despite sales dropping by 23% from $9.32 billion to $7.16 billion.
The games and network services division enjoyed a 32% increase in full year sales, rising from JPY1.98 trillion ($8.3 billion) to JPY2.66 trillion ($24.6 billion). The division’s operating profits increased by 43% from JPY238 billion ($2.20 billion) to JPY342 billion ($3.17 billion).
The music division saw revenues increase by 10% from JPY850 billion ($7.87 billion) to JPY940 billion ($8.70 billion). Operating profits increased by 32% from JPY142 billion ($1.31 billion) to JPY188 billion ($1.74 billion).
Breaking down the past year performance of the pictures division, Sony said that revenues had suffered due to theater closures and a lower volume of TV program sales, both due to the impact of COVID-19. Home entertainment and catalog titles gained for the same reasons. The studio managed only six film releases in the 2020-2021 financial year with the biggest “Monster Hunter” earning $15 million in North America and $23 million in international markets.
The division’s profitability improved due to lower theatrical marketing costs, the improved home entertainment sales, and a decrease in the charges related to the channel portfolio. For the year now underway, the corporation issued guidance indicating a 50% revenue rebound as theatrical releasing restarts and as licensing of television productions, notably “Seinfeld,” recover. Profitability is forecast to edge ahead by 3%.
The 10% gain in the music segment revenues reflected stronger sales of recorded music to streaming services, and stronger sales of “Visual Media and Platform,” the business unit that includes sales of music for mobile game applications and its Japanese anime business. “Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train” has been a record breaker.
For the current year (to March 2022) Sony is forecasting a further 5% gain in music segment revenues reflecting continuing sales to streamers. However, it forecasts a $240 million drop in operating income, reflecting lower Visual Media and Platform business and the absence of gains it enjoyed by selling part of Korean music label Pledis.
Best-selling recorded music projects in 2020-2021 were Harry Styles’ “Fine Line,” AC/DC’s “Power Up,” Luke Combs’ “What you See Is What You Get,” Doja Cat’s Hot Pink,” and Future’s “High Off Life.” The next six months are expected to see the release of music projects by Brockhampton, DJ Khaled, Doja Cat, French Montana, Giveon, Modest Mouse, Nicky Jam, Rag’n’Bone Man and Travis Scott.
The games division was lifted by the launch of the PlayStation5 console and add-on software. Software and network services boosted operating income, but Sony said that it incurred losses as PS5 hardware was priced lower than manufacturing costs. It also pointed to shortages of semiconductors as negatively affecting the segment, but said that demand continues to exceed supply. Its guidance for the new financial year points to the games division further increasing sales, but for operating income to retreat as games development costs increase.
In supplementary documents, Sony revealed that it made sales of 5.7 million units for the old PS4 and 7.8 million unit sales for the PS5. That total of 13.5 million units was largely unchanged from the 2019-2020 figure. Additionally, it said that PlayStation Plus network subscribers had increased from 41.5 million at the end of March 2020 to 47.6 million at the end of last month. The network’s monthly active users (MAUs) dipped from 114 million to 109 million.
A year ago, as the impact of the coronavirus was only beginning to be felt, Sony said that it had strong financial reserves and was in a position to be acquisitive. On a conference call with financial analysts following the regulatory filing, Totoki Hiroki, executive deputy president and chief financial officer, said that Sony would “aggressively pursue” acquisitions in the music segment in order to broaden its international operations.
The corporation started to use that financial muscle on several occasions in 2020.
It took a minority stake in Chinese video entertainment player Bilibili, and in July took a stake in Epic Games. Sony said earlier this month (i.e. after the end of the financial year) that it was expanding the Epic stake with a further $200 million investment in the company.
In December 2020, Sony Pictures announced the purchase of anime streamer Crunchyroll, a move that might bolster its position in the Japanese cartoon format against aggressive rival Netflix. But the deal is currently being examined by U.S. regulators.
In February 2021, Sony Music Entertainment announced that it had entered into a definitive agreement with Kobalt Music Group to acquire Kobalt’s recorded-music operations, including AWAL, and Kobalt Neighboring Rights. The acquisition is priced at $430 million.