Facetime: Sony TV President Steve Mosko
Over the last 15 months, Sony Television President Steve Mosko has traveled to Russia, Tokyo, London, Holland and twice to India. He wasn’t impersonating Ryan Bingham, the itinerant corporate hatchet man played by George Clooney in “Up in the Air.” Mosko, president of Sony Pictures Television since 2000, added international markets to his duties and embarked on a cram course in Sony’s overseas operations, which include 122 channels in more than 140 countries.
Among the “vertically integrated” media giants, Sony is supposed to be at a disadvantage because it doesn’t own a broadcast network or a bunch of cable channels through which it can funnel its shows. But that hasn’t held back the company, which has nearly 20 series on the air. They include the popular dramas “Rescue Me” on FX, “Breaking Bad” on AMC and “Hawthorne” on TNT.
On the major network side — the big money in TV — Sony has had a tougher time, though that could change. It has 10 pilots in development at ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox. Generating buzz are “Mr. Sunshine” for ABC, starring Matthew Perry as the manager of a struggling sports arena who’s in the throes of a midlife crisis, and a comedy about computer hackers for Fox, starring Christian Slater.
Fortunately, Sony has a strong roster of daytime and syndicated chestnuts to keep the cash rolling in. It makes two of the remaining soap operas on the air, “Days of Our Lives” and “The Young and the Restless,” and produces the game shows “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy.” Mosko has also cozied up with Oprah Winfrey and positioned Sony to become her partner on “The Dr. Oz Show,” one of the few new hit talk shows, and will also be a partner on the upcoming lifestyle talk show “The Nate Berkus Show.”
Mosko, who is coming up on 20 years at Sony, began his career as an ad salesman in local television at his hometown station in Baltimore. Company Town snagged him for a discussion on the television business. An edited transcript follows.
Sony is the only studio in Hollywood that doesn’t own a network or cable channel. That has to be a handicap when you’re looking for a home to air the shows you make.
I don’t find it a handicap at all. We do programming for 13 networks. Being Switzerland in some ways is a good thing because we can be in business with everybody. What’s attractive to producers, writers and actors is that they can come to us and know we’re going to go out and sell it to the best possible network.
You have two long-surviving soap operas, “Days of Our Lives” and “The Young and the Restless.” How long can they keep going?
The great ones will be around forever, and the good news is we’ve seen growth in both soaps. I learned the hard way how passionate the audience is about these shows. We were in contract negotiation with [“The Young and the Restless” star] Eric Braden and there was some disagreement over it — and the show’s fans were up in arms. Some people were kind of getting angry with me. I had death threats based on not getting the Eric Braden deal done.
The TV industry is struggling with how to make money from people watching TV online. What are your thoughts?
Anybody who tells you they know is wrong. Over the next six to 12 months a lot of this is going to shake out. With [Sony’s online video site] Crackle we’ve had great success using it as an advertiser-supported business to highlight our movie and television library.
So you’re not convinced that people will be willing to pay to watch TV online?
How much are consumers really willing to pay for content? If they can get it now by watching existing channels, how much are they really willing to pay to get it on a subscription basis somewhere else? I don’t know the answer to that.
You are on the Los Angeles board of the Paley Center, which wants to launch a new TV awards show. What do you have against the Emmys?
The Emmys just honor prime time, and there’s much more to television than that. Our awards will make it a more fun show, like the Golden Globes. Something where viewers say, “Man I’d love to be there,” as opposed to looking at an audience where people look like they’re thinking: “How do I get to the lobby?”
You started in local TV ad sales. What’s the goofiest thing you did to close a sale?
Arnie Kleiner was my boss when I was 23 years old at WMAR in Baltimore. We’re at a dinner negotiating a deal with the cheesy car dealer in town, and going back and forth. After a couple of flaming sambucas, Arnie suggests that to close the deal I arm-wrestle the car dealer. We cleared the plates. Arm-wrestling ensued. We got our terms. It didn’t hit me until years later that it was a lot of money we were arm-wrestling over. At the time it just seemed like we were arm-wrestling on principle.