Sony's Tony Vinciquerra Talks Merger "Floodgates," Hack Lessons

Tony Vinciquerra - 11th Annual PRISM Awards 2007 - Getty - H 2017
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The relatively new CEO says recent acquisitions are just the beginning: "We have to grow. If we don't grow, we will be somebody's purchase."

Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman and CEO Tony Vinciquerra is not a frequent public speaker. So the rare occasion of his Wednesday sit-down with Soledad O'Brien at the NATPE conference in Miami Beach ran a particularly wide gamut, with one clear throughline. Mergers and acquisitions among big media companies are only going to get more frequent — and if Sony doesn't grow, it's going to get swallowed up by the trend.

"We have to grow," said Vinciquerra. "If we don't grow, we will be somebody's purchase. But that's not our goal. I didn't take the job to do it for a year and sell the company."

Partnerships are not off the table. And while Vinciquerra was quick to note that the rumored merger between Sony and CBS had not even been discussed, other partners had. (He would not name names.)

Vinciquerra only joined Sony in 2017, replacing Michael Lynton — a central figure in the 2014 hack that rocked the company and the business world. Vinciquerra briefly touched on the event, implying that films like The Interview — the comedy about the planned assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un — would not be made during his tenure.

"You need to think more deeply and more intuitively about the impact what you do has on people around the world and countries around the world," said Vinciquerra, referring to the technological retaliation from North Korea. "This was the first hack on a major company. It's still reverberating."

On the film front, Vinciquerra used his time to brag about recent box-office performances of Spider-Man and Jumanji. The latter already has a global gross of $676 million, a fact the CEO largely credited to its performance in China. "Do you know how many screens Jumanji is on in China?" he asked O'Brien. "20,000."

He did not express concern for upstart movie subscription service Moviepass, noting that the "all you can eat" had questionable economics since the movie tickets still have to be purchased.

It was mergers, however, that kept coming up.

"There are six major film studios right now, and in a few years there will be three or four," said Vinciquerra. "There are hundreds of TV studios. And there will still be a ton, but there will be a few big ones and many small, specialized ones."

Vinciquerra stressed growing Sony's scale in the TV business as paramount to it not losing its edge — and streaming sales, where series costs are paid for up front with a producer fee, are the most desirable. But there is a glimmer of broadcast hope on the horizon. He echoed his recent internal comments and some of those from competitors in agreeing that the recent Disney purchase of 21st Century Fox's entertainment assets is good news for independent studios hoping to sell to "New Fox." The soon-to-be studio-less network, which he oversaw while running Fox Networks Group earlier in his career, is now a prime target for business.

"I think that will be a great opportunity to deal with New Fox," he said. "There have been some preliminary talks... . I wouldn't say discussions. I think New Fox will be terrific."

Then again, a great deal depends on what happens with the AT&T's blockbuster $85.4 billion bid for Time Warner, which faces a trial later in 2018.

"Repercussions of the deal going through are that it will open the floodgates to other mergers," he said. "If it doesn't happen, I think people will be forced to think about how to make things happen on a more creative scale."