In a bold move by Sony Pictures Entertainment — and the first hire of a Fox executive since former Fox Filmed Entertainment chairman/CEO Tom Rothman took the reins in Culver City — Sanford Panitch has been hired as Sony’s President of International Film & Television. This is a newly created post as Sony creates a business generating global film and television co-productions and local-language fare for theaters and TV. The appointment was made by Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton (Panitch will report directly to him), but Rothman’s fingerprints are all over this; the history between the new Sony topper and Panitch goes back nearly two decades to when Panitch came up through the production ranks at Fox with a stop at New Regency before becoming president of Fox International Productions.
Like Rothman, Panitch is a blunt and detail-oriented executive who created great value and profits in building a division that generates slates specifically for 12 territories with growing theatrical appetites like Russia, India, Latin America, Europe, and China. That included local-language co-productions and Fox titles re-purposed and made for modest sums, designed to thrive in specific geographical regions. Among the remake successes is Bang Bang, the redo of the Tom Cruise-Cameron Diaz-starrer Knight And Day, which last year was the fourth-highest-grossing movie in India and became last year’s top-grossing Bollywood film released in North America. Other successes included 2013’s Dragon Ball Z: Battle Of The Gods, which grossed $30 million in Japan; 2013’s Argentine drama Septimo (The 7th Floor); the comedy Schlussmacher from Germany’s Matthias Schweighofer and 2010’s Shah Rukh Khan-starrer My Name Is Khan, which became a global hit. Panitch’s division has been considered the most profitable local-language production division at a major studio, grossing more than $900 million in global box office since it was formed six years ago by Rothman and Jim Gianopulos.
Sony is new to that game. In Panitch, Rothman and Lynton get an executive with all of the experience and relationships they will need to hit the ground running. Panitch will also work with Sony TV chief Steve Mosko to create local-language TV productions as well. According to the announcement, he will coordinate with Andrea Wong, SPE Television president of International Production.
While change in Sony’s production ranks in Culver City has gone slowly since Rothman replaced Pascal — the exit of production co-president Michael De Luca to a Universal first-look deal is not expected to be the last domino to fall — we have heard that Rothman’s early priority has been to bolster Sony’s global operation and get them to perform more like Fox and Warner Bros, which are viewed as most efficient in exploiting opportunities on the international front that now provides 72% of global revenue. That arena, and others like new media, offer an opportunity for Rothman to look forward, and maximize the profit of Sony content creations.
“Sanford is a talented and strategic senior executive with an exceptional career working with a wide range of international productions and talent,” said Lynton. “There is tremendous growth potential in the international and local language markets, and we are thrilled to have someone with Sanford’s experience join our team.”
Said Panitch: “I’m honored to join the SPE team at this pivotal moment in the studio’s history, and I am eternally grateful for my years at Fox working with Jim [Gianopulos] and all my long time colleagues. This new role comes at a time of unprecedented change in the international marketplace especially in television, it’s a wonderful and unique opportunity to work with Steve Mosko, his outstanding organization and again with my friend Tom Rothman.”