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Media & Entertainment

Sony and Disney weave web of discord over Spider-Man

Breakup over revenue sharing threatens Japanese group's earnings

 A scene from a Spider-Man video game: Sony's Spider-Man film franchise will have to continue without star producer Kevin Feige.   © Sony Interactive Entertainment

TOKYO/PALO ALTO, U.S. -- Walt Disney's decision to bar its A-list producer from leading future Spider-Man movies risks damaging a key element of Sony's mainstay entertainment business.

Disney and Sony Pictures Entertainment reportedly hit an impasse when renegotiating the revenue sharing on films featuring the superhero, as Disney sought a co-financing scheme that would split proceeds evenly.

Industry watchers speculate that Disney decided to walk away with hitmaker Kevin Feige after Sony balked at the proposal, fearing the loss of income.

The dispute, which threatens to open a rift in the two entertainment companies' hitherto cooperative relationship, reflects the complicated rights arrangement over Spider-Man.

While Disney owns Spider-Man following its 2009 acquisition of Marvel Studios, Sony holds the motion picture rights to the character. 

Disney's proposal followed the successful performance of the latest installment, "Spider-Man: Far From Home," which was released this summer and had grossed $1.11 billion worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo.

"We are disappointed, but respect Disney's decision not to have [Feige] continue as a lead producer of our next live action Spider-Man film," Sony Pictures wrote Tuesday on Twitter.

Sony has shared a portion of the proceeds with Marvel whenever the studio's other characters have appeared in Spider-Man films. Their relationship had appeared to be one of coexistence.

Since the release of "Iron Man" in 2008, Marvel films produced by Feige have grossed a total of $22.5 billion over 23 films worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo. Feige was brought on to reboot the Spider-Man franchise. 

Though Sony made a name for itself through electronics, the company's games, music and motion pictures generated about half of its revenue in fiscal 2018, translating into two-thirds of the operating profit.

But the film studio's earnings depend on its ability to keep producing hits like the latest Spider-Man movie.

Sony projects a 19% increase in operating profit for its motion picture business to 65 billion yen ($611 million) for the year ending March 2020. The segment posted a loss as recently as fiscal 2016, but cost cutting and other efforts have borne fruit. Still, its earnings recovery remains tenuous. 

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