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Sony hopes 007 can come to the rescue

10-Nov-2008 • Quantum Of Solace

Sir Howard Stringer could be forgiven for feeling a little down. The ailing euro and strong yen took a bite out of Sony’s recent quarterly profits, forecasts have been slashed and Nintendo’s Wii console is outselling the PlayStation 3 by three to one, reports the Financial Times.

Only one man can lift the chief executive’s gloom: Bond. James Bond. Quantum of Solace, the latest Bond film to star Daniel Craig, opens in the US on Friday and, fortunately for Sony, the group looks to have a hit on its hands.

With more than a week under its belt in the UK and successful openings in India and China, the film is outperforming its predecessor Casino Royale – one of the biggest films of 2006 – in every market.

Quantum scored a record three-day weekend in the UK and the second-biggest opening day performance for a non-Indian film in India. By the end of last week it had already generated $70m in worldwide takings.

“I don’t want to predict what will happen in the US,” says Michael Lynton, chief executive of Sony Pictures Entertainment, Sony’s Hollywood studio. “But in these difficult economic times it’s nice to have a hit and the film certainly worked in the UK and elsewhere.”

Sony’s size means even a phenomenal Quantum performance is unlikely to offset the profits slump brought on by adverse currency movements. Still, if the film comes close to Casino Royale, which generated $588m at the box office, it should boost Sony’s bottom line.

“It’s profitable for the studio, which means it’s profitable for Sony corporation,” says Mr Lynton, adding that the film is also important “from a morale standpoint”.

The studio is likely to be a source of relief for Sir Howard as he grapples with an economic slump. Consumers cut spending on items such as electronic goods during recessions but Hollywood has always been resilient because films are a relatively cheap form of entertainment.

Sony Pictures has already enjoyed several global hits this year, notably Hancock, starring Will Smith, which made $620m at the box office.

A successful Quantum performance would cap a strong 2008 but the benefits of Bond go beyond box office receipts.

A Quantum video game will be released by Activision Blizzard on the same day as the film in the US while Sony is also using the film to showcase its products: a new Sony Ericsson phone, Bravia TV sets and Sony Vaio laptops all appear.

Bond wears an Omega watch and a Tom Ford suit and drives the obligatory Aston Martin. Coke Zero has also signed up to promote Quantum while Avon, the cosmetics group – and probably the unlikeliest of marketing partners – has launched a “Bond Girl 007” fragrance to coincide with the film’s release.

“Bond is a licence to mint money,” says Paul Dergarabedian, chief executive of Media by Numbers, which tracks box office performance. Sony, he says, has one of the “most incredible franchises going”.

The only problem for Sony is that the franchise reverts to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer with the next film, the result of an agreement struck when Sony formed a consortium to buy the rival studio four years ago.

However, the credit freeze has hit MGM’s plans to raise money to produce the film. MGM continues to explore financing options although Mr Lynton declines to comment on whether the two studios have had discussions about Sony staying on board.

“All things being equal, we’d love to stay in the James Bond business” he says. With a recession imminent, it is likely that keeping such a bankable franchise would also be welcomed by Sir Howard.

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