Category Archives: Sony

Congress to hold hearings on Universal-EMI merger

Coldplay EMI

Sen. Herb Kohl, chairman of the Judiciary Committee's antitrust panel, is planning to hold hearings on Universal Music Group's proposed merger with EMI Music, a union that would give Universal roughly 40% of the U.S. market for recorded music.

No date has been set, according to Kohl's spokeswoman, Dawn Schueller.

Kohl, a Democrat from Wisconsin, was outspoken against AT&T's proposed $39-billion purchase of T-Mobile last year, a deal that failed after the U.S. Federal Communications Commission said it would oppose the merger. Congressional hearings have no formal sway over antitrust regulators who ultimately have the option of trying to block mergers in court.

Universal, in a statement, responded, "We welcome the opportunity to answer any questions that the subcommittee may have, address the facts and debunk myths. Universal Music is committed to reinvesting in EMI to create even more opportunities for new and established artists, expand the marketplace with more music and support new digital services. We remain confident of regulatory approval."

Its $1.9-billion bid for EMI is currently under review at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission as well as the European Commission. Neither has spoken for or against the proposed transaction.

European regulators earlier this year approved a separate bid by Sony Corp. to purchase EMI's publishing business for $2.2 billion, provided that Sony sold off some of its catalog. 

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-- Alex Pham

Photo: Chris Martin, lead singer of Coldplay, a band signed with EMI Music. Credit: Rafa Rivas / Getty Images.

Sony posts $5.6-billion loss, 10% drop in sales

Sony Kazuo Hirai

Sony Corp. posted a record $5.6-billion annual loss Thursday, ending a fiscal year marred by global economic turmoil and the after-effects of last spring's earthquake and tsunami in Japan and last fall's floods in Thailand.

The consumer electronics and media giant, which is in the midst of a top-to-bottom reorganization, said revenue fell 9.6% to $79.2 billion in its fiscal year ended March 31, down from $87.8 billion last year. Sony lost $5.6 billion, or $5.55 a share, nearly double the prior year's loss of $3.2 billion.

About $3.2 billion of red ink recorded for the fiscal year just ended came from a paper loss it incurred by writing down deferred tax assets. Sony had warned investors in April of the expense hit, as well as the drop in sales.

Much of last year's revenue decline was due to a steep 18.5% drop in the sales of its LCD television sets, digital cameras, personal computers and PlayStation games businesses, which made up close to half of Sony's total revenue.

Its TV and games business suffered from severe competition from lower-cost rivals that forced the company to slash prices. Meanwhile, sales of digital cameras and PCs fell after an October flood in Thailand left factories idle for weeks. The company estimated that it lost sales of $170 million while its facilities were undergoing repairs that cost $160 million.

Sony's movie business blunted the losses in electronics, recording a $416-million operating profit on $8 billion in sales. A 9.6% uptick in revenue for Sony Pictures came from its television business as well as growth in video-on-demand sales and a sale of its share in the royalties from Spider-Man merchandise.

Its music business marked a 6% drop in sales to $5.4 billion from $5.7 billion a year earlier as CD sales continued to erode. Operating profits dipped 5.2% to $450 million, down from $475 million the year before.

Its new chief executive, Kazuo Hirai, has vowed to turn things around, telling investors that "Sony will change." Last month, the company said it would eliminate 10,000 jobs. The announcement followed a corporate realignment that demoted its once-sacred television business. Instead, the company would focus more on games, digital imaging and mobile products.

As a result, Sony forecast that it would grow revenue 14% in the current fiscal year with its factories humming again. It also projected a modest $366-million profit for the year, thanks to aggressive cost-cutting and a greater emphasis on higher-margin products such as medical imaging equipment.

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Photo: Kazuo Hirai, Sony's new chief executive, at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Credit: Ethan Miller / Getty Images

European Union approves Sony EMI merger

Stevie Wonder

The European Union's antitrust regulators on Thursday approved Sony Corp.'s $2.2-billion acquisition of EMI's publishing business, which would create the world's largest music publishing group with rights to about 2 million songs including some by David Bowie, Stevie Wonder and others.

In exchange for the EU's blessing, Sony agreed to sell off several European-based assets that together would have accounted for less than 5% of the combined company's overall revenue, said several executives close to the discussions who did not want to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

The merger calls for Sony's music publishing subsidiary, Sony/ATV, to administer the EMI catalog on behalf of a consortium of investors, including the Blackstone Group, the Mubadala Development Co., the estate of Michael Jackson, GSO Capital Partners and veteran music and movie mogul David Geffen. Sony itself would be a minority partner.

Geffen's involvement, his first major investment in an entertainment company since co-founding DreamWorks SKG in 1994 -- after a long and successful career in the music industry -- came in the nick of time last fall as Sony struggled to pull together financing for the deal. When Mubadala pulled back some of its investment in the pool weeks leading up to the final bidding for EMI, Geffen jumped into the breach in late October -- days before Sony's offer was due.

Sony still needs to gain the approval of U.S. antitrust regulators who, like the European Commission, must decide whether the deal restricts competition and hurts consumers. The Federal Trade Commission, which has taken the lead in investigating the EMI sale, has not commented on the matter.

Sony, in a statement, said, it "looks forward to successfully concluding the other regulatory review processes that are underway in other regions."

Martin Bandier, chairman and chief executive of Sony/ATV Music Publishing, said: “Having spent over 17 years of my professional life helping to build EMI Music Publishing, today is not only an important milestone on the path to final approval, but a very special day for me, personally.”

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-- Alex Pham

Photo: Stevie Wonder, whose songs' publishing rights are with EMI, at the Hollywood Bowl in 2011. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

‘Total Recall’ debut trailer logs 10.8 million views in 48 hours

TotalRecall
Sony Pictures' debut trailer for "Total Recall" racked up 10.8 million views online in its first 48 hours, demonstrating that a "trailer for the trailer" was effective in building hype.

Last Wednesday, Sony released a 30-second "teaser" that showed several scenes from this summer's remake of "Total Recall" starring Colin Farrell. It encouraged people to "get ready for the world trailer premiere" Sunday.

In addition to its debut on Apple's trailer website in the U.S. and other Web destinations internationally, the "Total Recall" trailer was first shown, in a slightly shorter form, on ABC during Sunday's Boston Celtics-Miami Heat game, where it was seen on TV by an additional 4.5 million people, Sony estimated.

ABC promoted the trailer debut in the lead-up to and during the game.

While not the first to employ a "trailer for a trailer" strategy, Sony received some lambasting from fans on the Internet for hyping a video that is in and of itself hype. "There's something distinctly perverse about trailers for a trailer," said a writer on the site CinemaBlend.com. "I know, I know, I'm part of the problem by rewarding this 'trailer for a trailer' phenomenon with coverage," added the site Filmonic.

But people still clicked through on the trailer in huge numbers. While 10.8 million is not a record -- the most recent "Avengers" trailer, released in late February, was seen 13.7 million times in just its first 24 hours -- it's a huge number that immediately drives widespread awareness of the movie, which is the goal for a first trailer.

In addition, on YouTube, where Sony's official version of the trailer has been seen nearly 2.8 million times, 90% of viewers gave it a "thumbs up" vote, instead of a "thumbs down."

"A trailer is one of the most influential pieces of marketing you can do for a movie, so you want to treat it like an event," said Sony marketing President Marc Weinstock. "You should launch it with every piece of promotional firepower you can."

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Sony Corp. of America executive changes are official

Michael Lynton, Amy Pascal and Howard Stringer
A shift in the top executive ranks of Sony's entertainment operations became official Thursday as studio chief Michael Lynton was named chief executive of Sony Corp. of America, effective June 27.

At the same time, Sony's electronics and video game units, which used to be part of Sony America, now report directly to the company's Japan headquarters. Lynton, who will remain chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment in Culver City, will also take charge of Sony Music Entertainment and Sony/ATV Music Publishing.

Sony Music CEO Doug Morris and Sony/ATV Chairman Martin Bandier will report to Lynton in his new role.

At Sony America, Lynton replaces Howard Stringer, who is stepping down from his role as CEO of Sony Corp. in Tokyo and handing the reins to Kazuo Hirai on April 1.

The expected change puts all of Sony's entertainment assets under one executive answerable to the Hirai. If Sony wants to sell or spin off its entertainment assets, as has long been rumored, grouping them together could make that process simpler.

Nicole Seligman, previously executive vice president of Sony America, was named president. She will be responsible for operations at the New York headquarters of Sony's U.S. subsidiary. Both she and Lynton will report to Hirai.

In a statement, Hirai said Lynton and Seligman will be "key members of my management team."

Lynton pledged to pursue Sony's long-promised, and largely unfilled, goal of uniting the company's content and technology businesses.

"While the studio and the music companies are doing well, this remains an era of great change and challenge," Lynton said in a statement. "And so I know we will work more closely than ever with Sony's electronics and network businesses to bring the best possible entertainment experiences to people everywhere."

In another executive shuffle at Sony America, Rob Wiesenthal, who was executive vice president and chief financial officer, won't stay on to work with Lynton. He is transitioning to Sony/ATV, where Bandier named him president of international. In his new job, Weisenthal will overee the music publisher's operations outside North America and Britain, advise Bandier on business strategy and help with the integration of EMI Music publishing, which Sony/ATV and a consortium of investors recently agreed to buy.

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Photo: Michael Lynton, Amy Pascal and Howard Stringer in April. Credit: Evan Agostini / Getty Images

Sony shake-up puts Lynton atop all entertainment

MichaelLynton
Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman Michael Lynton will be promoted to chief executive of Sony Corp. of America in a management shuffle that gives him oversight of the entertainment and electronics giant's music businesses, people familiar with the matter but not authorized to speak publicly have confirmed.

The change, expected to be announced shortly, comes amid changes at the top of Sony Corp.'s headquarters in Tokyo, where Kaz Hirai will succeed Howard Stringer as chief executive on April 1. Stringer also had the title that Lynton will assume as head of Sony Corp. of America.

Lynton's ascension signals that he will be Hirai's top lieutenant in the U.S. overseeing all of the company's entertainment businesses, except for video games. That unit, as well as Sony's U.S. electronics operations, will continue to report directly to Tokyo. Hirai started his career in music and spent the past 17 years in top roles at Sony's video game unit.

Lynton will continue to be based at Sony Pictures' Culver City lot, even though Sony Corp. of America is headquartered in New York. He has run the movie and television studio since 2004, alongside co-chairwoman Amy Pascal, after previously working elsewhere in the film, Internet and publishing businesses. He has no experience in music.

Under the new structure, Doug Morris, CEO of Sony Music Entertainment, which sells recorded music to consumers, and Martin Bandier, CEO of the Sony/ATV music publishing division, will report to Lynton.

Nicole Seligman, who is currently executive vice president and general counsel of Sony Corp. of America, will be named president of SCA and run its business operations under Lynton, the people close to the matter confirmed.

Rob Wiesenthal,  SCA's chief financial officer, may transition to a new role at Sony/ATV rather than staying in his current position and working with Lynton.

The corporate changes were first reported by the New York Post and Financial Times.

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Photo: Michael Lynton and wife Jamie. Credit: Stefanie Keenan

Box Office: Navy SEALs take out Perry, Aniston, Seyfried

Act of Valor" dominated the weekend box office, opening to a solid $24.7 million, according to an estimate from distributor Relativity MediaThis post has been updated. See the note below for details.

As Hollywood's A-listers prepare for the Academy Awards on Sunday, it was the Navy SEAL stars of the movie "Act of Valor" who dominated the box office.

The intense action movie opened to a solid $24.7 million, according to an estimate from distributor Relativity Media, proving by far the most popular choice for audiences.

"Good Deeds," the latest movie from writer/director Tyler Perry, opened to $16 million. It's the second-smallest opening ever for the prolific filmmaker and actor, ahead of only 2007's "Daddy's Little Girls."

"Wanderlust," a new Judd Apatow-produced comedy starring Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd, and the thriller "Gone" starring Amanda Seyfried were both flops, opening to just $6.6 million and $5 million, respectively.

"Act of Valor," which has won plaudits for its ultra-realistic action sequences that feature the SEAL stars in training exercises, was a big bet for Relativity. The financially struggling independent studio topped other bidders by paying $13.5 million for rights to the movie produced by production company Bandito Brothers. It also committed tens of millions of dollars to an extensive marketing campaign that included four ads in and around the Super Bowl and online material targeting video game players.

But the investment appears to be paying off, as box-office receipts came in at the high end of pre-release expectations. Just as important, audiences loved the film, giving it an average grade of A, according to market research firm CinemaScore. That was not only true for men, who made up 71% of the audiences, but women. Strong word-of-mouth could help "Act of Valor"

Despite the softer-than-usual opening for "Good Deeds," distributor Lionsgate is optimistic the film will ultimately end up close to the average total gross for Perry's movies, about $50 million. The studio's executive vice president of distribution, David Spitz, noted that a higher-than-average Friday-to-Saturday box-office increase of 25%, plus an A CinemaScore, indicate that Perry's mostly female and African American fan base loved the movie.

The same can't be said for "Wanderlust," which had the second-lowest opening ever for a movie produced by comedy guru Apatow, ahead of the 2007 music parody "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story." The film about an uptight Manhattan couple who move to a commune got a CinemaScore of B-. It was financed by Universal Pictures and a fund previously managed by Relativity for around $35 million.

The weak opening for "Gone" marks the second time in a row that a film released by Summit Entertainment has opened behind one from the studio that bought it in January, Lionsgate. Audiences didn't like the low-budget film, for which Summit acquired domestic distribution rights from financier Lakeshore Entertainment, giving it a CinemaScore of just C+ from its mostly female audience.

Also notable at this weekend's box office: The Channing Tatum-Rachel McAdams romantic drama "The Vow" took in $10 million and brought its total gross to more than $100 million, become the first movie released by Sony Pictures' Screen Gems genre label to do so.

The Denzel Washington-Ryan Reynolds thriller "Safe House," which also opened Feb. 10, is right behind at $98.1 million.

[Updated, 11:18 A.M., Feb. 26: It was a third movie that opened that weekend, "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island," which had the strongest performance. With ticket sales down only 32% compared with last weekend, it grossed $13.5 million, slightly more than "Safe House" or "The Vow." Its domestic total is now $76.7 million, while a strong overseas performance has helped it to a worldwide total of more than $235 million.

Liam Neeson thriller "The Grey" has become the first breakout hit from new studio Open Road Films, co-owned by theater chains AMC and Regal, surpassing $50 million this weekend.

Here are the top 10 movies at the domestic office, with international results when available, according to studio estimates:

1. "Act of Valor" (Relativity/Bandito Brothers): Opened to $24.7 million.

2. "Good Deeds" (Lionsgate): Opened to $16 million.

3. "Journey 2: The Mysterous Island" (Warner Bros./New Line: $13.5 million on its third weekend, down 32%. Domestic total: $76.7 million. $18.5 million overseas in 48 foreign markets. International total: $159.2 million.

4. "Safe House" (Universal/Relativity): $11.4 million on its third weekend, down 52%. Domestic total: $98.1 million. $13.6 million overseas in 46 foreign markets. International total: $35.9 million.

5. "The Vow" (Sony Screen Gems/Spyglass): $10 million on its third weekend, down 57%. Domestic total: $103 million. $4.6 million overseas in 23 foreign markets. International total: $30.4 million.

6. "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" (Sony/Hyde Park): $8.8 million on its second weekend, down 60%. Domestic total: $37.8 million.

7. "This Means War" (Fox/Dune): $8.5 million on its second weekend, down 51%. Domestic total: $33.6 million. $11.7 million overseas in 41 foreign markets. International total: $27 million.

8. "Wanderlust" (Universal/Relativity): Opened to $6.6 million. $160,000 in two foreign markets.

9. "Gone" (Summit/Lakeshore): Opened to $5 million.

10. "The Secret World of Arrietty" (Disney): $4.5 million on its second weekend, down 30%. Domestic total: $14.7 million.]

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Photo: A scene from "Act of Valor." Credit: Relativity Media

Sony’s PlayStation Vita: The little console that could?

PlayStation Vita Kazuo Hirai E3Sony Corp.'s freshly launched PlayStation Vita handheld game console could generate more than $2.2 billion in revenue this year for the Japanese consumer electronics and media giant, according to the Boston-based market research firm Strategy Analytics.

The forecast is welcome news for Sony, which is struggling to recover from a catastrophic 2011, when an earthquake hobbled its home market in Japan and floods ravaged its factories in Thailand, and left the company with a $2 billion loss for the quarter ended Dec. 31, 2011.

The $250 device, which hit U.S. stores Wednesday after being released first in Japan Dec. 17, is a litmus test of sorts for Kazuo Hirai, Sony's newly appointed leader. Hirai had championed the device during his time overseeing the PlayStation business as an example of the perfect marriage between hardware and entertainment content. 

As a palm-sized device capable of accessing the Internet, the Vita also represented Sony's broader push toward connected entertainment in a portable package — allowing consumers to summon all manner of digital content on the go, including games, music and videos.

"The real value of the PlayStation Vita is its drive for content revenue growth and its strategic position in Sony’s entertainment ecosystem," wrote Strategy Analytics researcher Jia Wu, who forecast that Sony could sell 12.4 million units of the device and generate $2.2 billion in revenue for Sony in 2012. The estimate assumes that Sony would cut the price of the console sometime this year, bringing the average retail price to $180. The device is also expected to yield an additional $800 million in higher-margin software sales this year.

But the Vita faces headwinds, Wu cautioned. Among them is a cooling of demand for game consoles in general as consumers turn to smartphones and tablets for entertainment.

"Sales of the Wi-Fi version of PlayStation Vita at $249 initially exploded, selling more than 300,000 units in the first week of release" in Japan in December, he noted. "But the new console is barely moving 20,000 units per week in its home market after all the hard-core fans made their purchases."

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Photo: Kazuo Hirai, Sony's next chief executive, introduces the PlayStation Vita during a news conference at the 2011 E3 conference in Los Angeles. Credit: Jonathan Alcorn / Bloomberg.

 

 



 

Relativity, Fortress sued by investor in Sony slate deal

Adam Sandler, Chris Rock and Kevin James in "Grown Ups."

A film company that invested in a Sony Pictures co-financing fund arranged by Relativity Media is suing both Relativity and Wall Street giant Fortress Investment Group for fraud and breach of contract.

The suit, filed Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court by Aramid Entertainment Fund, claims the Sony fund, which provided more than $500 million in capital to co-finance movies since 2008, was shut down late last year in a manner that benefited both Fortress and Relativity but deprived Aramid of at least $44 million.

Aramid claims to have invested $22 million in the film-finance fund set up by Relativity, for which financing was arranged by Citi. The so-called "Beverly slate deal" allowed Relativity to choose from among most of Sony's productions to co-finance up to 45 movies over a five-year period. Films it has co-financed included the Adam Sandler comedy "Grown Ups" and the Kevin James comedy "Paul Blart: Mall Cop."

According to the suit, Fortress, an investment firm with more than $43 billion under management, was given access to Aramid's private financial information, including details of the Beverly slate arrangement, in order to consider buying some of the film company's assets. The two firms did not end up making a deal, but Aramid alleges that Fortress improperly used that information to later buy into the Beverly deal.

Late last year, the lawsuit states, Fortress arranged to buy out Citi's interest in the Beverly slate, which was worth $226.7 million, for just $113.5 million, as the bank wanted to exit the movie deal. At the same time, Fortress is alleged to have convinced Sony Pictures to end the deal, which was supposed to allow Beverly to keep funding movies through 2013, in December 2011.

To end the deal early, Sony allegedly paid Beverly no more than $214 million, which the lawsuit claimed saved the studio up to $222 million in payments that would eventually be owed on the co-financed movies.

The arrangement allowed Fortress to make a gross profit of approximately $96.1 million, the suit claims.

In order to convince Relativity, which earned a producer fee of $1 million plus 2% of gross receipts for each co-financed movie, Fortress paid it $14.5 million late last year, the lawsuit claims. While that's allegedly $15 million to $30 million less than Relativity would have ultimately made under the deal, the independent studio, led by outspoken Chief Executive Ryan Kavanaugh, was under financial strain last year. Following several box-office disappointments, its relationship with former backer Elliott Management ended and it took out a loan from Colbeck Capital to continue operations.The lawsuit claims that Relativity had reached "functional insolvency [which] made Kavanaugh and Relativity particularly receptive to overtures from Fortress."

The lawsuit claims that Aramid was cut out and received no return on its original $22-million investment, which would have been worth at least $44 million if the Beverly fund had continued making movies. The suit claims that Relativity represented to Aramid throughout the fall that Beverly would co-finance several upcoming Sony films, including "21 Jump Street" and a new Adam Sandler comedy, "I Hate You Dad." Instead, Relativity was allegedly working with Fortress and Sony to end the Beverly deal early.

A spokesman for Fortress did not respond to a request for comment. Spokesmen for Relativity and Sony declined to comment.

Aramid was previously involved in litigation related to film investments made by financier David Bergstein and construction magnate Ron Tutor.

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Photo: David Spade, Adam Sandler, Chris Rock and Kevin James in "Grown Ups." Credit: Tracey Bennett / Columbia Pictures

Sony posts $2-billion loss, 17% drop in sales

Kazuo Hirai Sony

Battered by a strong yen and floods in Thailand that hobbled several of its factories, Sony Corp. reported a $2-billion loss and a sharp decline in sales for its end-of-year quarter.

The Tokyo technology and entertainment giant Thursday said sales slid 17.4% to $23.4 billion in its third quarter ended Dec. 31. Its $2-billion net loss compared with a $950 million gain the same period a year earlier. 

The bulk of the losses stemmed from Sony's core consumer electronics business, where it was forced to cut the prices of its LCD television sets below production cost to compete with lower-cost rivals. Compounding the problem was a the high yen, which made its products more expensive outside of Japan.

Sony's PlayStation business also contributed to the decline. The unit racked up higher marketing costs in the quarter, with expenses to promote its PlayStation Network online entertainment services, while revenue suffered from a price reduction of its PlayStation 3 game console. 

Kazuo Hirai, Sony's newly appointed chief executive, last year said fixing its LCD television business would be the company's No. 1 priority this year.

Sony's film business exhibited a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy financial picture. Revenue from Sony Pictures Entertainment posted a 7.7% increase in revenue to $2.1 billion, ending the quarter with a $9-million profit. Sony attributed the gains to a higher number of box office releases in the quarter, which helped offset a decline in DVD and other home entertainment revenue.

Sony's music business saw both revenue and operating income decline, but remained profitable -- bolstered by continuing strong sales of Adele's "21" album as well as music from the "Glee" TV show. The group's sales fell 11.7% to $1.6 billion, while profits of $196 million were down 21.7% from a year earlier.

Sony also revised its forecast for its full fiscal year, saying the deteriorating economies in Europe and elsewhere will result in lower demand for its products. Sales for the year ending March 31 is now expected to be $83.1 billion, down 1.5% from its November forecast and down 10% from a year earlier.

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Photo: Kazuo Hirai, Sony's new chief executive, at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Credit: Ethan Miller / Getty Images

Sony Pictures loses a strong ally atop parent company

LyntonPascalStringer
The elevation of Kazuo Hirai to chief executive of Sony Corp. will deprive Sony Pictures Entertainment of someone atop the Japanese electronics giant who has been a major champion of its Hollywood studio.

The role of the Culver City-based film and television studio within the Sony family has long been a subject of speculation in Hollywood, with many questioning whether the corporate parent might sell it or spin it out once Stringer no longer runs the day-to-day operations or retires.

While Sony Pictures has been consistently profitable since chief executive Michael Lynton took over in 2004, efforts to more closely integrate the studio's content business with other parts of Sony have borne little fruit, with the notable exception of the high-definition Blu-ray disc format.

And like all Hollywood studios, Sony Pictures has had to cut costs by laying off staff, reducing its producer deals and consolidating some operations in the past few years amid economic pressures caused by the declining DVD market.

Stringer, who spent most of his early career in the television business at CBS, has deep ties to Hollywood and enjoys a strong relationship with Lynton and the studio's creative chief, co-chairman Amy Pascal.

Hirai, meanwhile, started his career in music and has spent most of his career in Sony's video game division. Though he has a longstanding relationship with Lynton, he has no background in film or television and is not as well-known a figure on the studio's lot as his predescessor.

While Stringer remains Sony Corp.'s chairman, Hirai's rise to the top operational role in April is sure to increase speculation about Sony Picture's future.

The studio is poised for a high-stakes summer with several big-budget pictures to be released, including "The Amazing Spider-Man," "Men in Black 3" and "Total Recall."

Sony Corp. has been in the movie business since 1989, when it acquired Columbia Pictures, which remains the studio's primary film label.

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Photo: Michael Lynton, Amy Pascal and Howard Stringer, the latter of whom will be succeeded by Kazuo Hirai as CEO of Sony Corp. in April. Credit: Evan Agostini / Getty Images

Sony promotes Kazuo Hirai to succeed CEO Howard Stringer

Howard Stringer Kazuo Hirai

Kazuo Hirai, who has been taking on an increasingly public role as the new face of Sony Corp. over the past year, has been appointed president and chief executive of the struggling consumer electronics and entertainment giant.

Hirai's promotion is effective April 1, the beginning of Sony's next fiscal year. The 51-year-old executive will succeed Sony's current chairman, CEO and president Howard Stringer, who will become chairman of the board of directors in June.

Hirai joined Sony in 1984, fresh out of college. His first job was as a junior marketing executive at a joint music venture owned by CBS and Sony in Japan. In 1995, Hirai moved over to Sony's computer entertainment division the year after the company launched its first PlayStation game console.

For Hirai, who has been leading the Japanese company for the last few months in all but name, the move comes at a critical time for Sony. Fierce competition for low-cost manufacturers in Korea and China have eroded its profit margins for its flagship television business, while consumers have abandoned Sony for smartphones and tablets produced by rival Apple Inc.

Last year, further misfortune struck Sony as hackers infiltrated its computer servers, wreaking havoc on  millions of confidential customer profiles. A massive earthquake triggered a Tsunami that ravaged Sony's home market of Japan, and tropical storms later damaged its factories in Thailand and elsewhere.

The disasters led the company in November to project a $1.2-billion loss for its current fiscal year ending March 31, reversing a $769-million gain it had projected prior to the catastrophic storms. It's set to report its financial performance for its December quarter Thursday morning.

In most, if not all, of these instances, Sony leaned on Hirai to present the bad news to its customers and investors.

To outsiders, it may have looked as if Hirai had been acting as the fall guy. But Sony's decision to elevate him to the top post indicates that the company's board approved of his performance and believes him to be the right person to lead the company in a time of crisis.

Founded in the midst of post-World War II Japan in 1946 as a telecommunications company, Sony became a global powerhouse starting in the late 1960s when it introduced its Trinitron color television.

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Photo: Howard Stringer, Sony's outgoing CEO, left, and Kazuo Hirai, who was appointed its new president and CEO, in 2009. Credit: Shizuo Kambayashi / Associated Press

 

 

 

 

 

Warner’s Bronfman vows to ‘fight’ EMI sale to Universal and Sony

Edgar Bronfman Jr.

Edgar Bronfman Jr., Warner Music Group's former chief executive and outgoing chairman, said his company would oppose the sale of EMI Group to Warner's two biggest rivals, saying the deals would reduce competition.

Bronfman himself had vied to buy EMI's recorded music business last year, but was outbid by Universal Music Group's $1.9-billion cash offer. EMI at the same time also agreed to sell its music publishing operation for $2.2 billion to a consortium of investors led by Sony ATV, a division of Sony Corp.

In a parting shot, Bronfman on Tuesday, his last day as chairman of Warner, told an audience at a media conference in Dana Point that EMI's sale was "dangerous" because the concentration of market share would stifle innovation and reduce payments to musicians they represent. Bronfman said Warner would "fight tooth and nail" to convince antitrust regulators to stop the deals.

A Warner spokesman confirmed Bronfman's comments, made at the D: Dive Into Media conference hosted by the Wall Street Journal, but declined to elaborate on how the company will work to thwart the sale of EMI. Sony also declined to comment on Bronfman's remarks, and messages to Universal were not immediately returned.

The deal, which would reduce the number of major record labels from four to three and the number of big publishing companies from five to four, is currently wending its way through regulatory scrutiny in both Europe and the U.S.

Regulators so far have not raised any antitrust concerns, but aren't expected to make a determination for at least several more months.

Bronfman also took a swipe at Google Music, calling the digital music store an "oxymoron." Warner is the only major label to abstain from selling its music on Google's online store, launched in November. It's unclear how he felt Google's efforts into music were contradictory, but Bronfman followed up his comment by suggesting that the Silicon Valley search giant places more value on the platform delivering content more than the content itself.

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 — Alex Pham

 Photo: Edgar Bronfman Jr. Credit: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images.

 

Sony PlayStation Vita hands-on [Video]

Sony's PlayStation Vita has got me intrigued.

As much of the gaming world has moved toward smartphones and tablets, I've wondered if consumers (or myself as a gamer) would take to new handheld consoles the way they did with the Vita's predecessor, the PlayStation Portable.

But after spending a few minutes with the Vita in my hands at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, my interest has piqued.

If you've played video games on the PlayStation Portable, which affectionately became known to most as the PSP, then the Vita will look very familiar at first glance. Joysticks and buttons are placed to the left or right of a nice, wide display and the graphics produced by the system are detailed and sharp.

But unlike the PSP, there are many features of the Vita that better equip Sony's handheld formula for competition in a smartphone-riddled future. On the front of the Vita is a 5-inch OLED touchscreen and a similarly sized touch panel can be found on the back of the device.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss on the Sony PlayStation Vita

I played a bit of Uncharted: Golden Abyss, one of the titles that will launch with the Vita during its U.S. release on Feb. 22, and the game used traditional controls and the touchscreen. And switching between the different control options was intuitive and easy.

The Vita can also be used as a controller for Sony's PlayStation 3 home console, which could bring touch controls to even more games if developers embrace this feature. Though I didn't get to spend a long time with Uncharted or the Vita, the potential for some really creative game-play options was obvious. 

The Vita will also run a number of smartphone-like apps, including apps for the photo-sharing site Flickr and video-streaming service Netflix, local-discovery app FourSquare and social networks Facebook and Twitter.

There are also two cameras on the Vita, one on the front and one on the back, and in the few test shots I snapped on the CES showroom floor, I have to say I was a bit disappointed. Photos didn't seem to be high quality and colors were washed out and not sharp. Sony wouldn't say what the resolution of the cameras would be for the U.S. release of the Vita, but the Japanese version (which went on sale on Dec. 17) featured VGA-quality cameras in front and back with a resolution of 640-by-480 pixels, which is about the same as an Apple iPad 2. 

We'll be getting a review unit of the Vita in a few weeks, and I'll reserve final judgement for then, but after my hands-on time with the system, there's a lot to like and a few things that I'm not so excited about (aside from the camera). One of them is the pricing of Vita's new proprietary memory cards. 

The Vita will sell for either $249 in a Wi-Fi-only version or $299 for a 3G/Wi-Fi model that runs on AT&T's network. AT&T is offering no-contract data plans for the Vita of $14.99 for 250 megabytes of data per month, or three gigabytes for $30. Games (on a new card format and not the UMDs found in the PSP) will sell for about $9.99 to $49.99, according to Sony. All of that seems to be pretty fair pricing in my opinion.

However, memory cards for the Vita -- which you will definitely need if you want to store any apps, downloadable games, movies, music, photos or any other content on the Vita -- are sold separately.

A four-gigabyte memory card will sell for $19.99. Not bad. An eight-gigabyte card will sell for $29.99 and a 16-gigabyte card will sell for $59.99. Getting a bit higher. And, a 32-gigabyte card will sell for a whopping $99.99.

It seems a bit painful to think you may end up spending an extra $100 after plunking down as much as $300 for a Vita, but this is the current reality, depending on how much stuff you'd like to store in the device. Ouch. 

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Photo: The game Uncharted: Golden Abyss on the Sony PlayStation Vita. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times

CES 2012: Television makers push Google TV in Las Vegas

Vizio Google TV

When Google TV first launched a little more than a year ago, it had few hardware partners and failed to resonate with a wide consumer market. But the technology was back at the Consumer Electronics Show this year, with major tech companies promoting the software and saying its time had come. 

"You've got to reorient customers to look at TVs as an actual smart device, as a device just like a tablet or a PC or a phone," said Matthew McRae, chief technology officer at Vizio, during an interview with The Times. "It takes a little bit of time, but I think that bridge has been crossed."

At CES in Las Vegas this week, Vizio was showcasing its 65-inch, 55-inch and 47-inch V.I.A. Plus HDTVs with Theater 3D; the VBR430 Blu-ray player; and the VAP430 stream player -- all of which incorporate Google TV's 2.0 platform. V.I.A. stands for Vizio Internet Apps.

The V.I.A. Plus experience features an app-centric interface on every device, "making it easy for consumers to understand and navigate as they move between devices," the company said in a news release. Users can also access thousands of apps from the Android Market.

McRae said the company was encouraged by the advances in the second generation of Google TV, saying the earlier version of the software "missed on the simplicity front."

"When people sit down at a TV, it's got to be intuitive, it's got to be a few button clicks to whatever you're looking for," McRae said. "If you make it any more complex than that, they'll just give up.... So the user interface I think is actually more challenging to get right on a TV than it is on a tablet or PC."

The prospects for Google TV -- which combines traditional television, the Internet, apps and search capabilities -- are growing rapidly among developers, who are rolling out thousands of apps built specifically for televisions. 

Vizio was especially excited to show off its new VAP430 stream player with Google TV, a media player that turns any HDTV into an enhanced V.I.A. Plus smart TV. Vizio's stream player, a small black box about the size of a wallet, features built-in HDMI ports that let users connect existing components like gaming consoles or set-top boxes for unified access to all media sources through the V.I.A. Plus touchpad remote. It also supports 3-D content and 3-D streaming. Vizio stream player

Vizio officials said the stream player was expected to be released in the first half of the year, but declined to say how much the device would cost. Sales of stream players are poised to pass Blu-ray players in unit volume sales by 2013, Vizio said, making the devices the "perfect solution" for media multitaskers. 

LG is also showing off sets with Google TV software that will launch in the U.S. in the first half of 2012 and later for the rest of the world. Among LG's Google TV offerings will be a 55-inch model, and each Google TV set from LG will include a "magic remote" with a built-in keyboard.

Google TV will run on LG's TVs alongside its Smart TV platform unveiled last year. Since last year's CES, LG said it had added more than 1,200 apps to its Smart TV offerings.

Sony too heavily hyped its Google TV products at CES and said it was expanding its line of devices that included the software. 

The tech giant said it was rolling out two new set-top boxes powered by Google TV -- one connected Blu-ray disc player and one Network Media Player. Enhanced features include access to the Android Market as well as a redesigned remote control for improved functionality, new linkage with the Sony Entertainment Network platform and a new mobile device interface that allows consumers to use smartphones and tablets as a content source. 

"As a result more consumers will be able to enjoy multiple content sources from broadcast to streaming video and various apps through one easy-to-use seamless interface by connecting to any HDTV," Sony executive Kaz Hirai said during the company's CES news conference.

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-- Andrea Chang in Las Vegas

Upper photo: A Vizio HDTV shows off Google TV software, with live television and a panel of apps sharing space on the screen. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times

Lower photo: Vizio's VAP430 stream player with Google TV, a media player that turns any HDTV into an enhanced smart TV. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times

TVs go big, wide and ape at the Consumer Electronics Show

LG press conference. Credit: LG

As always, the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has been filled with new TVs and home entertainment product announcements.

In fact, there have been so many announcements that it might be tough to keep up with them all if you're actually looking to CES to help you decide what your next TV set will be.

No worry, we're here to help sift through the noise. We'll have more on TVs and Google TV products coming, but here are some of the highlights from LG, Vizio and Sony thus far.

LG

As we reported ahead of CES, LG had big-screen plans for this year's Vegas show with a new 55-inch OLED TV that is just 4 millimeters thick and an 84-inch LED-backlit LCD TV with 4K-display resolution.

For those who don't know, 4K resolution is what many in the TV industry believe will be the next bump up in high-definition standards for TVs and Web video. Current top-of-the-line HD TV sets available to consumers now are either 1080p or 720p -- each number indicating the number of vertical pixel lines of resolution the HD sets can handle. The term 4K resolution identifies displays with about 4,000 horizontal lines of resolution. There isn't a ton of 4K video content out yet (most HD TV channels are 720p), but many filmmakers are moving toward shooting in 4K with newer digital cameras.

As promised, LG unveiled both the 55-inch and 84-inch sets at CES this year, each set falling into what LG is calling its Cinema 3D series of TVs, which will range in size between 55 and 84 inches and feature a super-thin bezel when they hit the market later this year. I saw both sets in person here at CES and they looked big, bright and clear.

Of course, how a TV looks on the showroom floor and how it looks in the living room can vary. But LG, as well as many other TV makers, seems to be producing thinner and lighter TVs with increasingly more detailed and accurate pictures displayed on screen.

LG Google TVAnother announcement from LG this year was wider implementation of its Magic Remote, which was shown off at CES in 2011 too. As my colleague David Sarno noted in his reporting on CES, the Magic Remote acts much like the Wii remote used by Nintendo's Wii video game console.

With the motion-sensing Magic Remote in hand, a user can navigate on-screen TV menus, settings and even channel changes with a combination of gestures and button presses.

LG is also showing off Google TV sets that will launch in the U.S. in the first half of 2012 and later for the rest of the world. Among LG's Google TV offerings will be a 55-inch model, and each Google TV set from LG will come with a Magic Remote with a built-in keyboard.

Google TV will run on LG's TVs alongside its Smart TV platform unveiled last year. Since 2011's CES, LG said it has added more than 1,200 apps to its Smart TV offerings.

Just as it was last year, 3-D is a major theme at CES this year, and LG also said that about 50% of its 2012 TV line would be made up of 3-D TVs. But like Vizio, and unlike many other TV rivals, LG's 3-D TVs won't use active-shutter 3-D glasses. Instead, LG's and Vizio's 3-D TVs will work with passive 3-D glasses that are more like the glasses often found in movie theaters.

Vizio

Irvine-based Vizio also showed off a newer, wider vision for home TVs. Dubbed Cinema Wide, Vizio is releasing a line of new TVs with a 21:9 aspect ratio. Nearly all TVs currently being sold have a 16:9 aspect ratio.

Vizio Cinema Wide TVSo, what'll this mean when you're actually watching TV on a Cinema Wide display? When watching a movie in a wide-screen format, no more "letterbox" black bars above and below the image.

However, if you're watching TV on a Cinema Wide set, you're almost guaranteed to see black bars running to the left and right of the screen, since most TV shows and sporting events nowadays are broadcast in a 16:9 aspect ratio.

Vizio says it will release its Cinema Wide sets (which will also be 3-D TVs) in both 50-inch and 58-inch sizes in the first six months of the year, with a 71-inch size to follow later.

The bargain-priced TV maker is also releasing a lineup of Google TV products including TVs running the Google TV software, Google TV Blu-Ray player and a set-top box called the Stream Player that will enable Google TV to run on any HD TV.  Sony HX850

Sony

In 2012, Sony's Bravia line of TVs will be divided into three series -- BX for entry-level models, EX at the mid range and HX at the top.

The high-end HX line will be made up of LED-backlit LCDs with 3-D and built-in Wi-Fi for Skype and Sony apps. The even higher-end HX850 series will also feature screens made of Coring's Gorilla Glass, which is easy to clean and scratch resistant, as well as thin and light. The HX series will be available in 46-inch and 55-inch sizes, each with a 1080p resolution.

The EX line won't have Gorilla Glass or 3-D, but these TVs will have built-in Wi-Fi and Sony apps and will be available in 40-inch, 46-inch and 55-inch sizes, each with a 1080p resolution.

The entry-level BX line from Sony will be made up of some pretty basic TVs. The BX450 series,will offer 1080p resolution in 46-inch and 40-inch sizes while the BX330 series will consist of one 31.5-inch set with a resolution of 720p, the lowest resolution that can still be classified as high definition.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Top photo: LG's press conference at CES 2012 in Las Vegas on Jan. 9. Credit: LG

Second image from top: LG's Google TV Smart TV set. Credit: LG

Third image from top: Vizio's Cinema Wide TV. Credit: Vizio

Bottom image: Sony's HX850 TV at an angle. Credit: Sony

Sony outlines strategy to revitalize TV group

Sony 3-D TV glasses
Sony used the backdrop of the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to talk about the company's plans to revitalize its struggling television division.

Executive Deputy President Kazuo Hirai said new technologies, such as the Crystal LED prototype the company showcased Monday in its news conference, will factor in plans to return the TV group to profitability by March 2014.

Hirai reiterated the cost-cutting measures Sony announced last fall, as the television division plunged to a loss. Those include dissolving a joint venture with Samsung, closing plants, and reducing the number of televisions it ships by eliminating "overlap," he said.

Sony executives continued to voice support for 3-D television technology, which has not caught on with consumers as quickly as many manufacturers had hoped.

"As with any new technology, it's going to take a while," said Hirai, noting that demand would be fueled by the increasing availability of new movies and games in 3-D.

Phil Molyneux, president of Sony Electronics, said the company introduced a new line of 3-D glasses Monday to address consumer complaints about the weight. "I could wear them on the ski slope, they're so sexy," he said.

Sony Corp.'s chief executive, chairman and president, Sir Howard Stringer, sought to draw parallels in adoption of 3-D in the home to the introduction of the first color TV sets.

"It's becoming a feature of television. It's built in," Stringer said, noting that in the future TV viewers will be watching sitcoms in 3-D — not just "smash bang" action series. "It's an inevitability, so be patient. There has never been a tech like this for which you didn't have to be patient."

Investors also will have to be patient in learning about Sony's succession plans.

Asked about reports that Sony would elevate Hirai to president in the spring, Stringer said he never intended to keep the title as president. He offered no concrete details about succession planning, other than it is a process that ends "with the approval of the board."

"I've been planning succession for a long time. Many of you have written about it,"  Stringer said, adding that the Nikkei report last week that Hirai would be elevated in April "came as as a surprise to me."

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Photo of Toshino Yuhaku of Sony Pictures watching 3-D TV at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Credit: Don Kelsen / Los Angeles Times

 

CES Preview: Google TV items on tap from Sony, Samsung, Vizio, LG

Sony's first-generation Google TV set

Google is trying again with Google TV, and on Thursday it announced its partners for the television effort before hardware is unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week.

The lineup is mostly familiar, with LG, Samsung, Sony and Vizio producing Google TV products. Sony has released Google TV television sets and set-top boxes, and Samsung and Vizio both showed off prototype Google TV products at CES last year that never made it to market.

Absent from the Google TV hardware lineup this year is Logitech, which gave up on the Internet-connected TV software after its Google TV products failed to catch on with consumers, resulting in more returns than sales in the second quarter of 2011.

Marvell and MediaTek will produce chipsets for Google TV products.

LG "will showcase a new line of TVs powered by Google TV running on their own L9 chipset at CES," Google said, also noting that Samsung and Sony will have new Google TV devices on the market this year. LG said in its own statement that some of its Google TV sets will be 3-D.

Vizio will hold "private demos at CES showcasing their new line of Google TV-powered products," Google said.

The Technology blog will be at CES next week looking at Google TV products and other new gadgets, games and technologies, so stay tuned.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Photo: Sony's first-generation Internet-connected LCD television powered by Google's Android-based Google TV platform. Credit: Kiyoshi Ota / Bloomberg

Sony’s Tablet S gets $100 price cut

Sony Tablet S

Sony has cut $100 off the price of its first tablet, the Tablet S, in a move to entice consumers to its Android slate.

Those who buy a Tablet S also receive a free 180-day trial of Sony's Music Unlimited service, as well as five free rentals from Sony's Video Unlimited Service.

Through the end of January, the company is offering up five free downloadable "Classic PlayStation" games in its PlayStation Store app for new Tablet S owners as well.

The price drop, as listed in Sony's online store, pushes the Tablet S down to $399.99 with 16 gigabytes of built-in storage or $499.99 for 32 gigabytes of storage.

The dual-screen Sony Tablet P, which made its debut alongside the Tablet S as a prototype in April, still hasn't been released or given a launch date, although the tech giant promises it is on the way.

The Tablet S features a 9.4-inch touchscreen with 1280 x 800 resolution and a wedge-like shape that makes the slate feel something like a rolled magazine in the hand. A Wi-Fi Internet connection is needed for use.

The device also has a 5-megapixel camera in the rear and a 0.3-megapixel camera up front, 1-gigabyte of RAM and a dual-core Nvidia Tegra2 processor. The tablet runs on Google's Android Honeycomb operating system, but Sony has promised an update to the newer Android Ice Cream Sandwich.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Image: A Sony Tablet S running Sony's Video Unlimited service. Credit: Sony

Android Ice Cream Sandwich coming to Sony Tablets

Sony Tablet S (left) and the Sony Tablet P

Sony has announced that its tablets, the Tablet S and Tablet P, will receive upgrades to Google's Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system.

The tech giant, however, isn't yet saying when Ice Cream Sandwich will hit its tablets, of which only the Tablet S is on sale.

The Tablet S, which features a tapered shape resembling a rolled-back magazine and a 9.4-inch touch screen, went on sale in September at a price of $500.

Meanwhile, the Tablet P -- a clamshell device with two 5.5-inch touchscreens and a hinge running through the middle of the displays that allows it to close on itself, screen to screen -- was announced in April but has yet to hit stores or even get a solid release date.

Both devices currently run Android 3.0 Honeycomb, but that will soon change, Sony said in a forum posting on its website, as first reported by PCMag.com.

"We're happy to confirm that an update to Android 4.0 will be available for Sony Tablet," Sony said in a statement posted to its company forums. "Details including timing will be announced in due course, so please stay tuned."

Sony also said in the forum posting that it recently released a software development kit for the dual-screen Tablet P to help aid developers looking to create apps specifically for that device.

The company has previously stated that Ice Cream Sandwich, the first version of Android designed for use on both phones and tablets, will be heading to 11 Sony Ericsson smartphones next year as well.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Image: Sony's Tablet S, left, and Tablet P. Credit: Sony