Michael Lynton is stepping down from his position as CEO of Sony Entertainment, the film, television and music conglomerate, to serve full-time as chairman of the board of social media power Snapchat.
The move, announced Friday in an email by Lynton to Sony staff, will happen in six months. It is unclear who will replace him. Sony Pictures chief Tom Rothman remains in place, according to Sony.
Lynton, 57, had been at Sony for 13 years, initially brought in when Amy Pascal was head of the film studio. He has been steadily promoted as the studio achieved success with the Spider-Man and James Bond franchises, TV hits such as Breaking Bad and The Blacklist and music moves such as purchasing Michael Jackson's half of the Sony/ATV catalog.
In recent years, the film studio has struggled, and Lynton was forced to steer the company through the most devastating hack in corporate history when Sony was targeted over its decision to make The Interview, a comedy about the assassination of North Korea leader Kim Jong Un. Sony's 2016 film slate underperformed against rival studios, with flops including Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk and disappointments such as Passengers.
Kaz Hirai, CEO of Japanese parent Sony Corp., wrote in an email to employees: "I want to thank Michael for his strong leadership and dedication to Sony. His vast experience and expertise in the entertainment and media space has been invaluable in charting a path forward through a constantly-changing landscape."
Hirai added that he will have an office at Sony's Culver City lot for the next few months to manage the transition.
Lynton, who before Sony was an executive at Penguin Group, The Walt Disney Co. and AOL Europe, was an early investor in Los Angeles-based Snapchat and has served on the board of the renamed Snap Inc. for four years. He quietly became board chairman in late 2016. "Given Snapchat’s growth — and my growing role and responsibilities in it — I recently determined that the time was right to make a change," Lynton wrote in his letter to staff.
A replacement has not been named, though one possible successor is Andy House of Playstation Interactive.
Lynton's move also has set the Hollywood rumor mill ablaze that Sony might be in play as a possible acquisition target. One potential suitor is CBS Corp., which recently called off merger talks with sister company Viacom, home of Paramount Pictures.
Lynton sent the following note to Sony employees:
Today I will be announcing my resignation from Sony to focus on my position as Chairman of the Board of Snap Inc. This was not an easy decision for me, and one that I arrived at after long and careful consideration. Sony Corp will be issuing an internal note from Kaz to all Sony global employees as well as a press release describing the details and timing of my transition, which I have included below.
As some of you are already aware, I have been involved with Snapchat since its early days. Given Snapchat’s growth — and my growing role and responsibilities in it — I recently determined that the time was right to make a change.
I leave Sony with great pride in all we have accomplished together — from our greatest victories to overcoming our biggest challenges. Together we:
· Produced terrific films such as American Hustle, Captain Phillips, The Social Network, Spider-man, Skyfall and Spectre; and hit TV shows like Breaking Bad, The Blacklist, The Goldbergs, The Crown and Kevin Can Wait;
· Grew our worldwide networks business to 178 countries, including India with our ownership of the IPL cricket rights the Ten Sports Network;
· Completed the Lot’s most significant capital improvement projects in decades including the Jack and Harry Cohn buildings, Calley Park and the beautiful new 8-story Akio Morita building, which brought Sony Music and Sony/ATV Music Publishing employees onto the Lot for the first time;
· Completed the $750 million acquisition of the Michael Jackson Estate’s stake in Sony/ATV, making us 100% owners;
· And triumphed over the most devastating and disruptive cyber-attack in corporate history, keeping studio operations running and not missing a single day of production.
As you are all aware, the landscape of our business continues to shift as never before, and the innovation and commitment shown by all of you at Sony Corp, Pictures and Music to adapt and change with it has been inspiring. I am confident that the broad changes we have made and the terrific new management team we assembled over the last few years will strengthen the company overall, and position it for greater growth in the future.
It has been an extraordinary 13 years and an honor to work at Sony with some of the most talented and creative people in the entertainment space. I want to thank Sony Corp — Kaz and Howard Stringer in particular — for their leadership and support over the years, and our excellent teams at Pictures and Music for their unwavering dedication to producing and distributing outstanding entertainment.
I will be staying with Sony for the next 6 months to ensure a smooth transition, and I look forward to working with Kaz and many of you in that process.
Thank you all for these wonderful years together. I know that Sony’s best days lie ahead!