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Party Time at Sony

Yesterday I pulled into the Sony lot in Culver City for an exclusive interview with Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton and the mood was certainly celebratory. Huge tents were up for the holiday party and they're prepping for the premiere of the Will Smith vehicle "Pursuit of Happyness", but the real celebration is one that Warner Bros got to gloat about the past two years, and Disney the year before. Sony is officially joining the $3 billion club-- that elite group of studios that's hit $3 billion in global ticket sales in one year. And considering that Casino Royale still hasn't opened in some territories, it's going to be a very merry Xmas for Lynton and Amy Pascal, who was just named the most powerful woman in Hollywood by the Hollywood Reporter.

After a really abysmal 2005, Sony tipped the scales thanks to its performance overseas... it doesn't take a genius to figure out that while ticket sales are flat here and DVD sales growth is nil, that there's huge potential to grow moviegoing audiences in all those countries with growing middle classes. Plus-- its much less expensive to market a movie overseas. While a studio can spend well over $50 million to market a big pic, in France the most you can possibly spend to market a movie is $4 million, mostly for outdoor ads, as movie ads are prohibited from TV. Everyone makes such a big fuss about US box office numbers, but they're fairly irrelevant- home video and international are far more important... Take a look at Sony and Lynton's strategy: Casino Royale and Da Vinci Code both used stars that are huge in Europe, even though they'd barely been heard of here.

No coincidence- a few hours later I bumped into an exec in the International distribution division of one of the other major studios (which will remain nameless) who was ranting on and on about how his studios and others are totally overlooking the foreign market... Either spending millions to market movies which shouldn't even be sent there. The obvious point he kept driving home -- no studio should make a movie with more than an $80 million budget unless it can attract an overseas audience. Take a personal favorite, "Old School". There's just no way a movie about college culture can really appeal in countries which can't possibly relate -- it made just $11 million internationally-- nothing for a film that did $75 million domestic. (with just about 30% of the US going to college, that's one reason it's hard to get a college flick greenlit here). So as this unnamed other exec said-- it's rare to get foreign distribution really right--and Sony does.

Watch for next year as the other studios tailor more and more to the moviegoing market that's actually growing-- hint hint, it's not here.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.