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Sagansky Expected to Get High Sony Post

August 29, 1994|JOHN LIPPMAN and ALAN CITRON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Jeffrey Sagansky, who guided CBS from third to first place in the network ratings, is expected to be named president of Sony Software, the holding company of Sony Pictures, Sony Music and the company's growing multimedia operations, knowledgeable sources said Sunday.

Sagansky's appointment will put an executive with experience in both television and the movie industry at the helm of one of the largest entertainment companies in the country. Until leaving for CBS in 1989, Sagansky was president of TriStar Pictures, a Sony subsidiary.

Sagansky, former chief programmer at CBS who left the network earlier this summer, will report to current Sony Software President Michael P. Schulhof, who is expected to be promoted to chairman of Sony Software, the sources added. Sagansky will be based in New York.

Sagansky is said to be in final negotiations and an announcement is expected be made later this week.

Sources say Sagansky's job will include shoring up business at Sony's divisions, especially its troubled Sony Pictures unit. But in an unusual arrangement, Sony Pictures Chairman Peter Guber will continue to report directly to Schulhof.

That may be only temporary, however, because many people in the industry expect Guber, who has headed Sony Pictures for nearly five years, to return to producing or take a higher corporate post within Sony as early as next year.

Sagansky, who is out of town, could not be reached for comment. Sony executives were also unavailable.

Since leaving CBS when his contract expired, Sagansky has been weighing various offers, including becoming a partner in Savoy Pictures, the independent film production and distribution company.

Rumors of his possible hiring at Sony have circulated in Hollywood and on Wall Street for weeks, but exactly how Sagansky and Schulhof will delineate responsibility is not clear.

Bringing in Sagansky may serve several corporate purposes. Sony has been trying to sell a 25% stake in its Sony Pictures unit for months, and Sagansky could help find an investor. With his experience in film and TV, he could also help jump-start business at Sony Pictures.

Schulhof, a former physicist, is the highest-ranking American at Tokyo-based Sony, but he does not have a background in entertainment.

Sony Corp., the Japanese electronics giant, entered the American entertainment arena with a big splash in the late 1980s, when it acquired the former CBS Records and Columbia Pictures in rapid order.

Its bright spot so far is Sony Music, based in New York, whose artists include Pearl Jam, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen and Mariah Carey. The music company is second only to Time Warner in domestic market share and enjoyed 1993 global revenue of $4.48 billion under its president, Thomas D. Mottola.

By comparison, Sony Pictures in Culver City--the parent company of Columbia Pictures and TriStar Pictures--has suffered from consistent management turnover and a string of box office failures. This year's disappointments include "City Slickers 2" and "Blankman." After capturing nearly 20% of the domestic box office market share last year, Sony is mired around 11% this year. Movie revenue dropped 7%, to $3.2 billion, for the fiscal year ended March 31.

Problems at Sony Pictures have spawned repeated rumors that Guber will resign in the near future. Sources say the executive, whose production credits include "Batman" and "Gorillas in the Mist," has openly confessed his frustrations with the job. But publicly, at least, Sony insists that Guber is in for the long haul.

There had been speculation in recent weeks that Sony was wooing Walt Disney Studios Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, who lost a bid to play a larger role at the entertainment company. But last week, Sony denied that it was in negotiations with Katzenberg, and Sagansky's hiring seems to make a deal with Katzenberg highly unlikely.

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