Michael Lynton has been CEO of Sony Pictures for a decade, overseeing the production of hit movies like “American Hustle,” “The Social Network,” and the James Bond franchise. He has 21 different record labels under his management, including Sony and Epic. And he led the company through last year’s major cyber attack. Lynton was a featured speaker at Business Insider’s Ignition Conference earlier this month. He was interviewed by David Brancaccio of American Public Media’s radio program, “Marketplace.” The following has been edited for clarity and length.
DB: Welcome to the man whose studio is behind the latest James Bond film, “Spectre,” which I think brought in $200 million in its first weekend. Congratulations. ...
DB: Let’s talk about the global economy. China isn’t growing as quickly as it did. Maybe Europe has bottomed out and could be improving. What are you seeing? Because we have the US economy, which seems to be on a different track. What are you seeing from your global operations?
ML: Actually we are seeing huge growth. It’s sometimes masked by the strength of the dollar. So you’re sort of swimming upstream because we report in dollars. But when you look particularly at things like the movie business in China where they’re adding, I don’t know, 6, 7, 8 screens a day and will quickly overtake the United States in terms of domestic box office. When you look at the demand for American drama television series in particular around the world for television networks all over the place we see that’s the area of growth for us, even in Europe where, as you say, it’s sort of bottoming out. But barring certain markets, obviously Brazil is having its difficulties at the moment, it’s definitely it’s a good time for American entertainment.
DB: So you report in dollars.
ML: And then it gets translated back into yen but in the first instance in dollars, yes.
DB: Do you think the global nature of a lot of your business changes the product in some sense? I remember seeing the original TV show “Mission Impossible” on several different television stations on trips through Africa. There’s little dialogue in “Mission Impossible” the TV show. There’s very little to translate and so it lent itself to international distribution. One imagines that movie scripts and perhaps TV shows are aware of that and that may change in some way.
ML: You know I get asked this question a lot when interacting with, not directly with the State Department, but parts of the US government that are concerned about public diplomacy. They are under the impression, as was the case back in the ’60s and ’70s, that American movies are in large part what inform people abroad about democracy and American culture. I would argue that’s not the case anymore. Particularly with the big blockbuster movies that we try and get out all over the world. We try and sprinkle the movies with casts that are international. We try and actually pull back a little bit on the American jingoism. I do think of the two, probably television is more attuned to public diplomacy right now than film. Because actually when you are making an American television show you don’t have those things in mind. The stakes aren’t as big. So if you cancel it overseas it’s not the end of the world. And a movie you definitely want to be able to have the world wide market right out of the gate.
DB: Norman Lear with those legendary shows on American television that had social content for an American audience, that’s a very different animal.
ML: Right. I grew up in the Netherlands, and between “M*A*S*H” and “All in the Family,” that was how I learned about the United States, for sure.
DB: But it’s quite different now, you think?
ML: I think it’s pretty different, yes. ...