Amy Pascal's Exit Sparks Scramble for Top Sony Job

jeff_robinov_Tom_rothman_Michael_de_luca_Split - H 2015
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jeff_robinov_Tom_rothman_Michael_de_luca_Split - H 2015

Jeff Robinov and Tom Rothman are among a small group of candidates that could step into the role of studio head.

As Amy Pascal prepares to step down from her co-chairman post at Sony Pictures Entertainment after 15 years in the studio's top creative role, Hollywood is abuzz with speculation about who might get the vacant job.

The two most obvious candidates are Jeff Robinov and Tom Rothman, both former studio heads at Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox, respectively. Both are currently under the Sony umbrella: Robinov as the head of Studio 8, his new outfit with $1 billion in backing from China's Fosun Group and several U.S. banks; and Rothman running the revived TriStar label on the Sony lot. In fact, many have speculated for months — even before the hacking scandal engulfed Sony in November — that either executive could eventually step into the co-chairman role should Pascal exit. 

But sources say Robinov was in China and Rothman was in London at the time Pascal announced she was stepping down, and Sony did not appear to have tipped off either executive nor others with close relationships to the studio as to its plans. It is also unlikely that Robinov would want to step away from a new venture that has been so effective at raising money and striking strategic allegiances with the potentially lucrative Chinese audience. Rothman, on the other hand, could be hurt by embarrassing emails of his own that were leaked during the epic hack that precipitated Pascal's downfall. In one well-disseminated exchange, he poked fun at the children of Sony-based star Will Smith for being homeschooled. Still, both enjoy strong relationships with talent, not unlike Pascal, who was one of the most beloved studio heads among Hollywood's fickle star caste. And Rothman was well-known at Fox for running a tight fiscal ship, which could appeal to Sony brass after Pascal was criticized in recent years by investor Daniel Loeb and others for overspending.

If Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton and Sony Corp. president and CEO Kazuo Hirai decide to fill the void from the inside, Columbia Pictures president Doug Belgrad would likely be considered given that he is the highest-ranking person on the studio's production side. But according to internal documents leaked by the hackers, Belgrad appeared to be on a short leash with his bosses after a dismal 2013 (he did enjoy a much better box-office year in 2014). Bringing one of Pascal's closest lieutenants in to replace her could also be seen as "more of the same," which might not appeal to Sony's owners.

Sony's president of production Michael De Luca is another internal option. Before joining the studio last year, De Luca produced three of Sony's most critically acclaimed hits: The Social Network, Captain Phillips and Moneyball. Before that, he enjoyed a long career as a top studio executive at DreamWorks and New Line. Like Rothman, De Luca also saw embarrassing email exchanges revealed as a result of the hack, but he could bring top management experience and isn't yet considered part of the entrenched Sony management structure, which might be appealing. 

Outside Sony, there are few available executives with experience running a major studio. Stacey Snider, late of DreamWorks and Universal, recently took a senior job at Fox. Adam Fogelson, who ran Universal until he was replaced in 2013 by Jeff Shell and Donna Langley, is now running the new STX studio started by Robert Simonds. Warner Bros. has three executives running the film studio, Sue Kroll, Greg Silverman and Toby Emmerich, one of whom could decide to pursue the Sony job. Beyond that, the pickings are slim. 

Pascal, in her statement announcing her exit, said that she would stay on until May despite her current deal expiring in March. Presumably she will help transition in the new co-chairman before beginning her career as a producer on the Sony lot.