What a difference a few weeks makes, at least for one top Sony Pictures executive. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Sony’s entertainment studios were walloped by a devastating cyber attack that ransacked company computer systems of vast amounts of data that in turn were made widely, and embarrassingly, public.
“Without question, it was most difficult thing, personally and professionally, that I’ve gone through in my life,” said Steve Mosko, the Sony Pictures Television president, speaking at the Digital Entertainment World conference in Los Angeles. “You’d go to work every day, not having resources. There were a lot of things going on.”
Mosko dwelled a bit on the attack’s fallout, particularly the piling on by some commentators about the mess.
“It was weird, too, in how many people took great joy in trying to bring us down,” Mosko said.
The trying period came months after activist investor Daniel Loeb (an investment partner with Deadline parent company PMC in corporate sibling Variety) had pushed Sony to better account for the costs and revenues of its entertainment units. Layoffs and other cuts hit last spring as a result of that pressure. But all the challenges have had an upside too, Mosko said.
“It made us tougher,” Mosko said. “I think it made us better too. We’re at full strength and more than that, people have a little chip (on their shoulders): ‘We’re not going to let it bring us down.’ “
But now, less than three months after the break-in was discovered, things are looking up, though he confessed to moderator Michael Schneider that it was still a bit too soon to easily take jokes about the attacks. The FBI has said the North Korean government ordered the cyber attacks in retaliation for Sony Pictures Entertainment’s bankrolling of The Interview.
Asked what keeps him awake at night now, though, Mosko said, “Nothing. If you asked me a few weeks ago what was keeping me awake, it was the FBI saying my emails have been dumped (into publicly accessible caches of information). Today, nothing. When you go through something like that, you’re not sitting in bed going, ‘Gee, I wonder if (Better Call) Saul is going to do all right.’ “
In fact, the spinoff prequel of Breaking Bad (both produced by Sony TV for AMC Networks) did more than all right, setting cable ratings records in its weekend debut. And Mosko also pointed to the big ratings racked up in the post-Super Bowl season debut of its NBC hit The Blacklist.
“It’s been a good week,” Mosko said.
Even trying to create a spinoff from Breaking Bad, accorded by many critics as the best series in TV history, was a challenge, Mosko said.
“It’s a tricky thing when you have a show held in such high regard,” Mosko said. “It broke all this ground. There’s 100 reasons not to do that (spinoff).”
He also showed off clips from programs the company is making for Sony-owned outlets, including a clip from Powers for the PlayStation Network and Joe Dirt 2 for Crackle, the Sony-owned “over-the-top” ad-supported channel, which Mosko said he was particularly proud of as it continues to grow.
Sony TV has long produced shows for all the broadcast and then cable networks. More recently, Mosko said, his unit was the first to produce for Netflix and now is creating for even newer competitors, including Yahoo, which is carrying the next season of Community after five years on NBC. He showed a promotional clip featuring the Community cast and creator Dan Harmon promoting its move to the online outlet.
“We want to be in business with everybody,” Mosko said. “It’s not an either/or for us. To be able to be in business with a lot of people, it’s not going to stop us from doing business with other people.”
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