LOS ANGELES — What will happen to Sony Pictures?
That has been a question in Hollywood since Kenichiro Yoshida took over as Sony Corporation’s chief executive in April. Unlike his two predecessors, Mr. Yoshida, a number-cruncher based in Japan and known for jettisoning underperforming businesses, seemed to have little affinity for the company’s also-ran movie and television division, which is best known as the home of Spider-Man and “Seinfeld.”
Surely this would be the moment for Sony to get rid of the midsize studio — especially since Rupert Murdoch had just decided to sell his bigger 20th Century Fox to Disney, having concluded it did not have the scale needed to compete with moviedom insurgents like Netflix, Apple and Amazon.
Surprise. When Mr. Yoshida takes the stage on Monday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, he plans to use the high-profile platform to showcase Sony movies, television shows and music. He plans to telegraph that not only will his Sony not exit any of these businesses, it will make them a priority as his predecessors have not. In particular, Mr. Yoshida wants to make better use of the company’s online PlayStation Network as a way to bring Sony movies, shows and music directly to consumers. PlayStation Network, introduced in 2006, now has more than 80 million monthly active users.
“I want to convey the message that Sony is a creative entertainment company,” Mr. Yoshida said by phone from Tokyo before leaving for Nevada. That description amounts to a significant shift. Sony has long been seen as a consumer electronics superpower first and a Hollywood entity second.
He added that Sony’s three separately run entertainment businesses — music, gaming and motion pictures — have been told from on high that it is time to collaborate more consistently. In the past, analysts say, PlayStation Network managers have been hesitant to team up with their movie and music counterparts, worrying that the service’s core gamers would balk if they felt that Sony was pushing, say, family films at them.
Mr. Yoshida seemed less concerned. He called PlayStation Network “a very strong entertainment platform for all of Sony — very suitable for video and music content.”
Mr. Yoshida said he was asking for collaboration at a time when all the pertinent divisions have new leaders. Tony Vinciquerra became chief executive of Sony Pictures in June 2017. John Kodera took over gaming slightly more than a year ago. In recent months, Rob Stringer and Jon Platt were named as Sony’s top executives in music recording and publishing. All report to Mr. Yoshida; he said he had no plans to consolidate the entertainment businesses under a single executive.
“Entertainment is in Sony’s DNA,” Mr. Yoshida said. “We’ve now been in the music business for 50 years, the motion picture business for 30 years and the game business for over 25 years.” For its last fiscal year, the three units made up 47 percent of Sony’s operating profit, which totaled $6.7 billion, the highest in the conglomerate’s 72-year history.
Positioning Sony as an entertainment company represents a “directional change” and fits with other public comments Mr. Yoshida has made since he took over nine months ago, said Masaru Sugiyama, a Goldman Sachs analyst. “It has felt as if entertainment is more integrated with the rest of Sony within Yoshida-san’s mind,” Mr. Sugiyama said.
Even so, Sony is in no way leaning away from its portfolio of technology and consumer products.
At CES, as the Las Vegas trade show is known, Sony is expected to showcase image sensors for cars, new audio products, ultra-ultra high-definition televisions and robotics. Thomas E. Rothman, Sony’s movie chief, will take the stage after Mr. Yoshida to talk up the company’s turnaround in film, bringing along Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, producers of the studio’s recent “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” But Mr. Rothman’s remarks will be peppered with references to how Sony cameras have helped the studio — its tech breakthroughs bolstering its creative endeavors.
Sony’s entertainment empire has its share of challenges, of course.
After buying out partners, Sony has outright control of the world’s largest catalog of music publishing assets. But the recording unit had a soft 2018 in the hit department.
Apple has been poaching Sony television and film executives to work on its coming streaming service. And major Sony-made television shows like “Better Call Saul” and “The Blacklist” are aging. Efforts to find replacements have mostly fizzled, in part because the highest-paying TV networks are ordering more shows from in-house suppliers.
As a whole, however, Sony’s entertainment businesses are stronger than they have been in memory — in particular the film division, which suffered a devastating cyberattack in 2014. Mr. Rothman and Mr. Vinciquerra have turned movies into an unexpected engine by cutting costs and focusing more intently on all-audience “tent pole” fantasies like “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” which took in $962 million worldwide in 2017. To dropped jaws in Hollywood, “Venom” generated $856 million in ticket sales late last year.
Sony has a parade of big-budget sequels on the way — “Men in Black: International” arrives in June — and the studio is aggressively mining the rights it holds to Marvel characters in the Spider-Man comics family. To that end, movies based on Morbius, Black Cat and Silver Sable are in the works; the Sinister Six could be Sony’s answer to “The Avengers.” Sony is also considering making animated television shows based on characters introduced in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” which has collected $276 million at the box office.
Now that Fox has been sold, only Disney and Sony have rights to make Marvel-related film and television content.
And Marvel characters are popular with the PlayStation Network crowd. One reason that Mr. Yoshida is pushing for more collaboration: Marvel’s Spider-Man, a $60 game, set a record for Sony in September by selling 3.3 million copies in its first three days of release.