Games strong, films weak in solid Sony third quarter

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Sony Corp. reported a 25% profit increase for its fiscal third-quarter Thursday on a stronger showing from its electronics unit and the first profit from its video gaming division in six quarters.

Sony's film unit reported weaker results though because of difficult year-ago comparisons.

Based on its strong results, the entertainment and electronics giant raised its full fiscal-year profit target from ¥330 billion to ¥340 billion ($3.2 billion). However, Sony reduced its estimate for PlayStation 3 consoles sales for the full year from 11 million to 9.5 million while raising its estimates for PS2 and PSP sales for the second time this fiscal year.

Rob Wiesenthal, executive vp and CFO of Sony Corporation of America, was asked about the impact of the writers strike. "All our divisions are operating without substantial interruptions," he said, adding that he was "relatively optimistic" about a labor solution as "talks seem to be going well." He also said Sony was not looking at any restructurings or cost moves related to the strike at this time.

Exec also again touted the recent successes for Sony's next-generation DVD format Blu-ray Disc.

Sony reported a profit of ¥200.2 billion ($1.9 billion) for the quarter ending Dec. 31 as revenue rose 9.6% to ¥2.9 trillion ($26.9 billion).

Operating income at Sony Pictures nearly halved on a yen basis compared with a year ago to $116 million because of reduced revenue in theatrical and television sales. Total revenue fell 24.6% in yen terms to $2 billion.

"There were no blockbusters in the quarter like 'Casino Royale' or 'The Pursuit of Happyness' in the same period the year before," said Nobuyuki Oneda, film unit executive vp and CFO. But the releases of "Spider-Man 3" and "Superbad" helped the home entertainment division.

Management said that the film unit remains on track to meet full fiscal-year expectations.

Among key upcoming film releases, Wiesenthal mentioned "Vantage Point," "21," the Adam Sandler comedy "You Don't Mess With the Zohan" and "Hancock" with Will Smith, along with Bond film "Quantum of Solace."

Execs wouldn't discuss the likely release date for the fourth "Spider-Man" film, but Wiesenthal said he is looking for "a lot more activity with this franchise" in film and TV over time.

In Sony's gaming division, revenue rose 31.2% to $5.1 billion, swinging the bottom line to $113 million. The company reported that 4.9 million PlayStation 3 consoles were sold, an increase of 3.2 million compared with the same period in 2006. Sales of games for the PS3 were up 391% to 26 million titles.

Gavin J. Blair reported from Tokyo; Georg Szalai reported from New York.
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