Sony presents the TV networks with a challenge

Oct 29, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Sony’s Howard Stringer delivered a jolt to the television production business two weeks ago when he announced that Columbia TriStar Television will discontinue program development for the networks until a better economic model is adopted.
Mr. Stringer, chairman and CEO of TriStar parent Sony Corp. of America, said his company can’t make money under the present system, which squeezes studios with high talent salaries and other production costs, forces them to share revenues with the networks and fails to pay off down the road in the oncelucrative syndication market.
“The deck is stacked,” Mr. Stringer said in announcing the move. Then he issued an intriguing challenge to the industry: “Anyone who is interested in changing the nature of the deck, I am game to meet.”
The one promising note in the Sony move is that it’s just possible some of the principals in network TV will take Mr. Stringer seriously and sit down to try to come up with an arrangement that works for everyone. It seems unlikely that such meetings would produce a renaissance in the way TV business is conducted, but even some minor tweaking might be beneficial to the industry.
On the other hand, the Sony pullout represents the loss of yet another independent voice in television production-dealing a potential blow to diversity and increasing the odds against someone coming up with the next “Hill Street Blues” or “Seinfeld” anytime soon.
Sony is apparently leaving the door open for TriStar’s possible return to network production and in fact seemed to take a very small step in that direction last week. In a press release announcing the division’s reorganization as Columbia TriStar Domestic Television, the company said it will continue to pursue “selected network programming opportunities in an innovative and targeted manner.”
We hope that means TriStar will find ways to deal with the networks and that those dealings will prove profitable. These are difficult, turbulent times for the TV industry, and it is in everyone’s interest to work together to help the industry as a whole weather the storm.
Sony is well aware of the current climate. “The television business is in transition,” said Steve Mosko, who will head the new TriStar division. “The future is about being targeted in your strategy and responsive to a wide variety of buyers’ needs.”
Ideally, those words will prove to be more than PR spin, and Mr. Mosko will recognize that among those buyers’ needs is a continuing demand for strong network programming.
We sympathize with Sony’s desire to light a fire under its network associates to get them to rethink their relationships with producers. But at the same time, we see no honor in Sony threatening to take its marbles and go home.#