Talking up what he calls a “three-bucket business”, Sony Pictures Television President Steve Mosko hit the stage at the Palais here at Mipcom today. The exec was bullish on Sony TV’s trio of footholds: production, the channels business and distribution, and talked the benefits of independence in an increasingly consolidated space. He also discussed the challenges of piracy, why it’s been wise to keep Seinfeld on the air — and had a few choice words about a certain unflappable lawyer.
“We had a sensational year in production,” Mosko said inside the Lumière Theater, noting the awards love for the now ended Breaking Bad, and the current success of The Blacklist. “We have so much great stuff in the pipeline. I was just down on the set of Better Call Saul, and I keep running into people saying ‘I need my Breaking Bad fix’. Bob Odenkirk is doing a terrific job, so we’re very excited about that.”
Mosko promised that acolytes of the now departed Walter White & Co will get a lot out of the prequel that focuses on criminal attorney Saul Goodman (Odenkirk) before his days with White. “For all the Breaking Bad fans, there’s going to be a lot of twists and turns. I won’t spill the beans too much, but it’s going to force you to go back and check out things on Breaking Bad to make sure you were clear on what you saw back then.” Saul debuts on AMC on February 15.
With successful current and anticipated series like The Blacklist and Better Call Saul, along with 15 production companies around the world, and a channels business that is thriving in India, Europe, Latin America and Japan, Mosko said, “Across all businesses right now, things are pretty good. They’re not perfect and we still get our head banged around a little bit, but we’re doing pretty good.”
SPT’s parent company, however, has taken some hits of late, saying last month it would post a $2B loss in the current fiscal year. Mosko said, “More than ever, what we do is important to the company.” He praised the work of CEO Kazuo Hirai and added, “I’ve been with the company 22 years and there has never been a time when the different parts of the company have worked so closely together.”
Still, SPT remains an indie. “When people think of Sony they think of it as a big multinational company, which it is. But on the television side, we’re a pretty lean operation… There’s a lot of consolidation going on in the world, which I think is great, but I think what we’ve found particularly in the United States is that our independence has really worked as a benefit to us. Ten years ago, we had one show on the air in the U.S. and people said ‘you can’t really exist as a standalone production company without a network.’ Today, we have around 30 original shows on the air on 14 different networks.”
On the issue of piracy, which has also evolved over time, Mosko said he believes “a lot of people in the television business have been in denial” about it. Compared to the features business where the impacts of piracy can be felt pretty much immediately, “with piracy in television it’s a little more of a slow burn.” Tight controls and more day-and-date are the way of the future. “The sooner you make the product available, the more you’ll deter pirates. We’re trying to get to a place where we go day-and-date as much as possible around the world.”
SPT has a relationship with Netflix and is proffering new Playstation series Powers here at Mipcom. But the traditional TV business remains lucrative. Mosko said, “Someone told me when I took the job, ‘It’s great you’re making all of these shows, but keep your soap operas on the air, keep Wheel Of Fortune and Jeopardy! humming along… And keep selling Seinfeld’!”