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Sony Pictures loses a strong ally atop parent company

February 1, 2012 | 12:58 pm

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