This Japanese electronics company is doubling down on game shows at a time when millions of viewers are abandoning TV for online entertainment.
What is Sony Corp.?
Quiz shows like "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune" have been a core part of Sony's entertainment business since the Tokyo-based giant acquired Columbia Pictures in 1989.
After decades on the air, "Jeopardy" and "Wheel" are still among the most-watched programs in the U.S., with daily audiences of more than 9 million each. Those are huge numbers in an era when many consumers are tuning out traditional TV in favor of Netflix and other unscheduled online programming. "Jeopardy" scored its highest ratings in 14 years last April after the extended run of charismatic champion James Holzhauer.
Earlier this month, Sony announced it would spend $510 million to buy out its partner in the Game Show Network. But the company will likely have to make some decisions in the near future about its game-show business as key players near retirement.
Alex Trebek, the 79-year-old host of "Jeopardy," has been undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer. Over at "Wheel," Pat Sajak, 73, recently underwent surgery for a blocked intestine. Resisting the urge to test guest hosts as news programs and talk shows often do, Sony put longtime letter turner Vanna White, 62, out front during Sajak's absence. All three are under contract until 2022.
Behind the scenes, though, changes are afoot. Harry Friedman, who has produced both programs for the past 25 years, is set to retire in May. To succeed him, Sony recently hired Mike Richards to help develop new shows. At CBS Corp. — which markets "Jeopardy" and "Wheel" for Sony — Richards helped rejuvenate "The Price is Right" and "Let's Make a Deal," with comedian hosts Drew Carey and Wayne Brady.
Game shows have been enjoying a renaissance, even in the streaming era. ABC said it had one of its strongest summers in years with a lineup that included "Celebrity Family Feud" and "The $100,000 Pyramid."
On Nov. 18, Sony said it reached a deal to acquire AT&T Inc.'s 42% stake in the Game Show Network. The channel, which airs episodes of "Family Feud" and vintage reruns of "The Match Game," has also scored successes with new programs such as "Common Knowledge," a trivia show hosted by former 'N Sync singer Joey Fatone.
The network generated profit of $85 million on sales of $232 million, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. It also has an online games business that Sony intends to grow.
Sony is planning a prime-time all-star "Jeopardy" contest featuring Holzhauer on ABC in January that could signal Trebek is "getting ready to hang it up," said Cory Anotado, founder of BuzzerBlog, which covers the industry.
For fans who want to know where Sony's is heading with its quiz-show programming, Anotado suggests they keep an eye on the Game Show Network, which uses focus groups to survey consumers. "GSN is that farm team of ideas that Sony can test with," he said.