Why is Sony laying off staff at a time when its stock is higher than it has been in years at $52 a share, and when big results are expected for God of War 4 and a Spider-Man game on PlayStation, and movie sequels to Spider-Man and Jumanji coming from a movie division that has turned things around? And all this after Sony paid generous 2017 performance bonuses that were called the “Jumanji bonus” after the $100M budget franchise reboot grossed over $961M?
Some on the lot believe that layoffs could be marching orders from Tokyo to Sony to raise profit margins by streamlining overhead and eliminating tenured high salary executives. If sources who’ve predicted these layoffs for several months are right, there will be more painful cuts coming and more internal emails divulging them. Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman Tony Vinciquerra has set a goal to raise overall return on capital margins to the 10% to 12% level that Disney, Universal and Warner Bros are enjoying, which, despite turnarounds in divisions like feature film, still lag at about a third of those rivals.
Layoffs are a surefire way to increase the margins and sources expect that these systematic cuts will continue: those sources said that as much as 25% to 33% of the 600 employees in marketing and distribution could be gone before the streamlining is done, though other insiders deny this. Some of the rationale behind this was spelled out in a Thursday internal memo by WW marketing and distribution president Josh Greenstein; with changing distribution models and marketing, thinning and streamlining the large studio overhead is an obvious place to cut. Another mandate will be to empower VPs and put them in charge instead of presidents, with domestic and international being managed together. This has made high paid senior executives fearful of their jobs.
Insiders I’ve run this past deny that there is some Tokyo turnaround mandate here, despite rumors to the contrary that say a sale is possible if the margins don’t improve. The perception is that there isn’t the same patience or sentimentality since Kaz Hirai exited and was replaced by his CFO Kenichiro Yoshida. Those insiders also denied the persistent rumors that SPE has three years to turn things around, arguing that comments by Yoshida about a three year plan were misconstrued and that his comments about entertainment and content creation were positive.
The cutback plan came after Vinciquerra conducted a multi-day strategic summit in March, attended by his top 70 global exec across the entertainment division, encompassing motion picture, TV, gaming, facilities and operations, marketing, distribution, home entertainment, international TV station operations, international TV, international theatrical distribution, foreign language films, finance, digital, communications, human resources and legal.
Streamlining — TV chief Mike Hopkins, film chief Tom Rothman and home entertainment chief Keith LeGoy are all consolidating — doesn’t mean Sony won’t spend or scale up to prevent it from being a target of acquisition by a slew of content hungry companies that could include Verizon, Google, Apple, or Facebook, tech companies that have kicked the tires on studio acquisitions. Among the initiatives is developing and acquiring content that will be more deliberately exploited across platforms, a change from the current way in which divisions act more like independent businesses in a silo system.
Beyond the cost cutting, the ongoing layoffs is expected to move the studio and its divisions toward a leaner, more horizontal employment structure, with fewer major exec and middle executives, instead empowering more downstream personnel who are younger and hungrier, and not as well paid.
Sony declined comment.