He’s not a studio boss from central casting. Tony Vinciquerra is a low-key executive with unflappable style and lack of pretension in an industry known for big egos.
Those are precisely the qualities that made Vinciquerra an appealing candidate to run Sony Pictures Entertainment as it looks to dial down the drama at its Culver City studio.
Since the devastating computer hack in 2014 that the U.S. government blamed on North Korea, the studio has been roiled by turmoil: the release of embarrassing emails, bickering among senior executives, high-level departures and a string of movies that failed at the box office.
Tokyo-based electronic giant Sony Corp. on Thursday announced that Vinciquerra, who helped build Fox’s cable channels into industry leaders, will replace Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman and Chief Executive Michael Lynton on June 1. Lynton ran Sony’s entertainment business for 13 years.
Vinciquerra must set a collaborative tone for the studio and boost morale among demoralized troops who have endured years of corporate upheaval. He also faces the difficult task of improving Sony’s movie and TV performance at a time when changes in consumer behavior and digital streaming services have strained traditional economics.
“His challenges are absolutely formidable,” said Jeffrey Cole, director of the USC Center for the Digital Future. “Sony has lacked direction for a very long time.”
Vinciquerra, 62, could become a sorely needed stabilizing force at Sony, industry insiders say.
“He is a calm and strategic media executive,” said Peter Rice, who eventually succeeded Vinciquerra as chairman of the Fox Networks Group. “He’s measured, thoughtful and smart.”
Sony Corp. Chief Executive Kazuo Hirai has spent more time in Culver City in recent months, assessing the operation and overseeing the CEO search.
“Tony is a proven, results-oriented leader with extensive experience running and driving growth in large, complex media and entertainment businesses,” Hirai said in a statement. “His operating skills, effectiveness working with creative teams and expertise in managing digital disruption and new technologies make him the perfect choice to lead SPE.”
The veteran executive has spent more than 30 years in television business. He ran one of the nation’s largest TV station chains, Hearst Argyle, before joining Fox, where he helped transform a hodgepodge of cable channels into a multibillion-dollar empire. Since leaving Fox in 2011, Vinciquerra has been a senior advisor to the private equity firm Texas Pacific Group, evaluating media properties and helping to launch media company STX Entertainment.
Still, several Hollywood executives privately questioned Vinciquerra’s appointment because he hasn’t managed a large business in six years and has never run a movie studio.
“That’s been the rap on 20 high-level media executives who came from television — me included,” said mogul Peter Chernin, the former Fox entertainment chief who hired Viniciquerra in 2001 to run the Fox television network. “It’s silliness, movie-business navel gazing. Tony is not going to be the guy on the set — he’s the strategic guy with the skills to run the business.”
“His challenges are absolutely formidable... Sony has lacked direction for a very long time.”
While at Fox, he typically skipped the glad-handing celebrity scene, instead heading home after work to be with his wife, Toni, and their three young children.
“He’s not flashy,” Chernin said. “That’s not who he is, nor who he wants to be.”
A former underling at Fox recalled when the TV distribution group was holed up in their offices one New Year’s Eve trying to negotiate a contract with Time Warner Cable. Around 9 p.m., when some in Hollywood were headed to swank parties, Vinciquerra showed up with food for 40 people and then stayed through the night to help his team seal the deal.
“He’s a very good team-builder,” said Robert Simonds, chief executive of STX Entertainment, where Vinciquerra has been a founding board member. “He’s not leading with his ego.”
Vinciquerra, the only son among four children, was raised in a two-bedroom apartment in Albany, N.Y., sleeping on a foldout couch. In his youth he worked a number of odd jobs, scooping ice cream, busing tables and sweeping up hair clippings at his grandfather’s barbershop.
“I had to earn my own way,” he told The Times in 2009.
While attending the State University of New York, Vinciquerra landed a job selling ads for a local radio station at $25 a pop and discovered a valuable technique for generating clients: He would scour newspaper classified ads for businesses that were hiring, figuring they had money to spend. He then would make courtesy calls.
In his 30s, Vinciquerra was running TV stations, including stints in Boston and Philadelphia, and later the Hearst-Argyle television group.
After joining News Corp., Vinciquerra helped build the Fox sports and entertainment networks, including FX and the company’s international TV channels. He managed Fox’s interests in sports teams, including the Los Angeles Dodgers, and turned its regional sports networks into a powerhouse. He also helped guide the Fox broadcast network into the No. 1 position among 18- to 49-year-old viewers, and it remained there for eight seasons.
Chernin pushed him into bigger roles handling contentious negotiations with cable and satellite operators, where he often squeezed them for fees. He launched such channels as the Big Ten Network and the National Geographic channels.
“He grew businesses that he didn’t have experience in — but he got in there and learned them and mastered them,” Chernin said.
Vinciquerra also developed a reputation for being the enforcer of cost cuts, including eliminating executive positions.
He left Fox in early 2011 when the senior ranks became top-heavy, and his turf overlapped with that of other Murdoch lieutenants.
Friends and colleagues say Vinciquerra, who serves on the boards of Spanish-language Univision Communications, Pandora Media, Qualcomm and other companies, has been eager to return to an operational role.
But he will face enormous challenges at Sony Pictures Entertainment, which includes film, television production and international TV networks. Sony Corp. took a nearly $1-billion impairment charge in January, citing diminished profits for its motion pictures business.
“Sony’s television business is doing quite well but the film studio can’t get out of the No. 5 or No. 6 slot among the major studios,” said Cole of USC.
Unlike Walt Disney Studios, Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures, Sony has few major properties that it can use to build lasting film franchises. In fact, Sony is trying to hang onto its popular James Bond franchise as rival studios try to woo it away.
“They don’t have tent poles, and they don’t have much emerging talent,” said Daniel Ernst, an analyst with Welch Capital Partners in New York, who follows Sony. “The challenge is going to be finding the next Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and Will Smith.”
Vinciquerra also must evaluate Motion Picture Group Chairman Tom Rothman, who has struggled to turn around Sony’s film unit since he took over for its former chairman, Amy Pascal, two years ago. Rothman’s hard-charging style has ruffled feathers and caused divisions.
Keeping the TV production unit humming will also be tricky.
Since Steve Mosko, the head of Sony Pictures Television, resigned last summer, two executives — Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg — have run the TV studio. Both executives’ contracts are up later this summer. If both leave, it would create a leadership vacuum.
Television now makes up more than half of the studio’s revenue and much of its profits. The TV studio boasts such critically acclaimed shows as “Better Call Saul,” “The Blacklist” and the lavish “The Crown” for Netflix.
Sony must balance its dual interests: selling shows to Netflix, which has the biggest original programming budget in the industry, while safeguarding its own streaming services Crackle and the Sony PlayStation Vue, which compete with Netflix.
Sony Pictures’ fast-growing international television channels, which are available in more than 170 countries, also face more competition and must fight to hold on to key programming rights.
Hollywood insiders have long speculated that Sony would sell its troubled studio, a scenario that would seem to fit with Vinciquerra’s experience in private equity and deal-making.
But in conversations with potential buyers, Hirai has indicated that he’s not interested in a sale and Sony executives have publicly dismissed any such speculation.
Vinciquerra is expected to work collaboratively with the parent company and its electronics business, perhaps finally delivering on the promise of Sony’s purchase of Columbia Pictures in 1989. Adapting movies and television shows for its PlayStation video game business and virtual reality headsets as well as capitalizing on Sony Corp’s vast distribution network will be especially important in a shifting media environment.
“He’s got a deep understanding of where media has been and where it might go,” Simonds said. “You want Tony in your foxhole.”
1:45 p.m.: This article was updated with additional background information on Vinciquerra’s career.
This article was originally published at 10:30 a.m.