Rothman joins forces with Sony Pictures

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Sony Pictures Entertainment has formed a joint venture with Tom Rothman, the former co-chairman of 20th Century Fox, in a deal that comes as the studio's parent company faces pressure to spin off its entertainment assets.

Mr Rothman – who left Fox recently after 18 years with the studio, a period when it released blockbusters such as Titanic and Avatar – will release up to four movies a year through Sony's Tri-Star label, according to several people familiar with the situation.

(Read more: Loeb lobs scorn at Sony's Hirai, mocks box-office bombs)

His imminent move to the Sony studio lot in Culver City comes as Daniel Loeb, the activist investor, is agitating for Sony to spin off its entertainment group, which includes the film and television studio and Sony's music company.

Mr Loeb's Third Point hedge fund has spent $1.1 billion building a stake in Sony of about 7 percent. In an investor letter this week he accused the company of treating the US entertainment assets as a "red-headed stepchild".

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In the letter Mr Loeb excoriated Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal, the two senior executives at Sony's studio, saying they were responsible for two "debacles" – After Earth and White House Down – which flopped spectacularly at the box office this summer. Mr Loeb compared their performance with Ishtar and Waterworld, two of Hollywood's biggest box-office flops.

He said Sony Entertainment was "poorly managed, with a famously bloated corporate structure, generous perk packages, high salaries for underperforming executives and marketing budgets that do not seem to be in line with any sense of return on capital invested".

(Read more: Sony CEO Asks for Shareholders' Patience on Spinoff Plan)

It is unclear whether the joint venture with Mr Rothman will mollify Mr Loeb.

While at Fox, Mr Rothman enjoyed a reputation for picking box-office winners and running the studio on a tight budget. He oversaw films ranging from Taken and Rise of the Planet of the Apes to Black Swan and Cast Away; when he left the studio Fox said his films had generated $25 billion in worldwide sales and been nominated for more than 100 Academy Awards.

Sony declined to comment; Mr Rothman could not be reached for comment.