Sony Corp. last week finally admitted its venture into the movie business was a disaster. The Japanese electronics giant said it was writing off a stunning $2.7 billion related to the purchase of TriStar and Columbia and a further $510 million for, among other things, dumping certain movie projects. Five years ago Sony paid $3.4 billion to become a Hollywood player. The news came barely two months after top Sony Pictures executive Peter Guber resigned after spending lavishly on corporate jets and personal chefs while producing megaflops like ""Last Action Hero.'' Now, just as another Japanese giant, Matsushita, has hired superagent Mike Ovitz to oversee its investment in MCA-Universal, Sony is scrambling to get its Hollywood properties in order. Industry experts see three possible Sony scenarios:
One theory is that Sony is gussying up the film studios for sale. In addition to the write-off, Sony has paid off Guber and has slashed jobs. Suitors? The usual suspects, such as Barry Diller and David Geffen, deny any interest. But there could be a slew of potential buyers among the phone and cable companies.
Michael Schulhof, president of Sony's American division, insists that the company is in the movie business to stay. Some Wall Street analysts agree. ""These guys think long term,'' says Chris Dixon, an entertainment analyst at PaineWebber. Schul-hof has said Sony is willing to inject more cash into the movie business. The trouble is, some Wall Streeters don't think Sony's movie business is going to experience a revival any time soon.
Schulhof has brought in former CBS entertainment chief Jeff Sagan-sky as his No. 2 man. But Schulhof could be a victim of a purge. Thus far, that's only speculation. He is thought to be safe for now because of his close personal ties to Sony president Norio Ohga. But the $3.2 billion write-off, one of the largest in Japanese corporate history, could jeopardize Ohga's job. If he goes, Schulhof may not be far behind.