Let the bidding begin! Sony CEO Kaz Hirai is stepping down and will be succeeded by current CFO Kenichiro Yoshida. Sony stock has risen amid speculation that the Hirai’s departure will increase the likelihood of Sony selling off their entertainment division, which includes Sony Pictures, the company that holds the license to the Spider-Man franchise.
Hirai was a champion of the entertainment division and while Yoshida hasn’t announced any major changes to Hirai’s strategy, Yoshida’s history as a shrewd cost-cutter is driving today’s speculation. Keep in mind, though, that speculation is all this is. Investors and analysts can get a little wild and crazy whenever there’s a change in leadership at a company the size of Sony.
That doesn’t mean they’re wrong. It just means we should not expect any deals to be announced in the immediate future.
If Sony sells off their entertainment division, including the movie studio, it would throw the Spider-Man license into question. Disney is waiting on government approval to spend $52.4 billion on 21st Century Fox, so they may not be the most likely buyer. If another company buys Sony Entertainment, there would be questions as to whether or not the rights to Spider-Man would, or even could be included in the deal.
Not all licensing agreements are transferrable. It’s not uncommon for licensing agreements to include language that explicitly makes them non-transferrable. It’s hard to imagine Marvel Entertainment allowing Sony to transfer the Spider-Man license in the event the entertainment division is sold, but stranger things have happened.
If the rights are transferrable without requiring any approval from Marvel or parent company Disney, then Spider-Man would go to whichever company buys Sony Entertainment. If, however, Marvel has been smart enough to protect themselves against such a possibility, then we are looking at a pair of scenarios.
The first would be Sony, knowing that it plans to sell their own entertainment division anyway, negotiates with Disney specifically for the rights to Spider-Man. Basically, Sony would just go ahead and get one last chunk of cash, or even a sustainable revenue stream with a percentage of future earnings in the sale of the Spider-Man movie rights back to Disney.
The second would be the Spider-Man license reverting back to Disney/Marvel automatically if Sony Entertainment is sold and there is no option for the rights to be transferred.
Stay tuned, as this is unlikely to be the last we hear of this story.