February 26, 2021

Sony TV Aims for Prime Time

Moviemaking would continue apace, but the production of new television shows — buffeted by soaring costs and industry consolidation — would nearly cease.

“There just had to be a better way,” recalled Mr. Stringer in an interview by phone. “The trail of destruction I found really depressing.”

A decade later, Mr. Stringer’s mood has lightened considerably. Sony’s television business — rebuilt brick by brick, or at least time slot by time slot — is now driving profitability at the broader studio.

Part of the reason is weakness on the movie side of Sony Pictures Entertainment; high marketing costs and a shortage of franchise films have severely dented its performance. But the small-screen side is also surging because of an improved hit-to-miss ratio, a leaner structure and overseas channel growth.

“Quietly and inexorably, Steve has expertly evolved that business,” Mr. Stringer said of Steve Mosko, Sony’s television chief.

Even so, Mr. Mosko still cannot boast of a completed turnaround. The Sony stable now includes money minters like “The Dr. Oz Show” and critical darlings like “Breaking Bad,” but the studio has struggled to score a home run in prime time on a major broadcast network — still the industry’s sweet spot. The best Mr. Mosko has been able to muster are doubles like the Joel McHale comedy “Community.”

This fall, Mr. Mosko is hoping to hit one out of the park with “Pan Am,” a stylish period drama about spying stewardesses that arrives on Sept. 25 on ABC.

The stakes are considerable for Sony, which spent an estimated $10 million to make the “Pan Am” pilot, a staggering sum by industry standards. A flop would underscore why Mr. Stringer got out of this risky game a decade ago and call into question the studio’s current direction. Sony’s other new shows for the fall are less ambitious, but also costly. They include a remake of “Charlie’s Angels” for ABC and “Unforgettable,” a co-production with CBS that is centered on a detective with a memory affliction.

If this pressure is weighing on Mr. Mosko, whose contract expires next year, he is not showing it. When asked about the price tag for “Pan Am” in an interview, he coolly adjusted a Buddhist-style bracelet adorning his left wrist and said, “We’re not going to spend like drunken fools, but it needs to look a certain way for ABC to be happy and advertisers to be happy and deliver great results for Sony.”

Sony’s revival comes as entertainment companies across the board lean more heavily on television to cope with an atrophying film business. Movie executives have been laying off employees and cutting back on production as a result of imploding DVD sales, piracy and weakening sales of old films to cable networks.

Meanwhile, the television part of the studio trade has strengthened. Netflix has emerged as a new buyer. Cable outlets like ABC Family and Starz continue to ramp up on original programming. Foreign channels are booming. Even advertising sales, hammered during the recession, have come roaring back.

Sony only discloses financial results on a combined movie-television basis, so it is unclear how much money Mr. Mosko’s group generates. But analysts say it is considerable. Of the $466 million in operating income that Sony Pictures Entertainment reported for its last fiscal year, which ended March 31, television contributed well over 50 percent.

Michael Lynton, chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, noted that Mr. Mosko’s unit had thrived despite its small size — it has 27 shows in production compared with Warner Brothers’ 54 — and despite being the only studio left that does not have a broadcast network or major North American cable channel as a corporate sibling.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=50345752eb5575c0d3bea45dd264166e

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