The 14-year reign of Tommy Mottola at Sony Music is over.
According to sources at Sony Music, where the phones have not stopped ringing, Mottola only found out he was leaving when he arrived Thursday morning at 550 Madison. "He was told to go see Sir Howard Stringer, and when he got there they handed him a press release," my source said. Mottola was then given a couple of hours to clear out his office. A deal for a record label was, according to sources, Sony's resolution of the last year of his contract.
Also swirling around 550 Madison: the news that Epic Records' beloved chief Dave Glew will retire, and that veteran Columbia Records exec Mel Ilberman will as well. Now the big question is who will replace Mottola, and speculation is already pointing toward Bob Bowlin, already part of the Sony corporate structure and a friend of Stringer and Kevin Kelleher, will assume Mottola's duties. Another rumor has it that former Warner Bros. Home Video head Warren Lieberfarb, who left his own post suddenly last month with no explanation despite much success, may be headed for the job.
Earlier it was reported that Mottola resigned this afternoon as CEO, although it is more true to say that Sony refused to give in to his contract demands. His contract was said to be ending in 2004.
The Japanese owners of Sony had a lot on their minds when it came to Mottola's future. The talented but volatile music executive personally forced out two of Sony's major stars, Mariah Carey (his ex-wife) and Michael Jackson. In the case of the former, the embarrassing story of Mottola allegedly stealing music from Carey's Glitter album and passing it to Jennifer Lopez didn't help much. Carey was able to use that information as leverage to leave her Sony contract one album early.
In the case of Jackson, the complicated goings-on regarding his finances and the Beatles catalog culminated last summer in Jackson riding around Manhattan with a megaphone calling Mottola a racist. If there's one thing companies like Sony don't like, it's public humiliation. And Stringer, who runs Sony Entertainment, and is a class act, was never amused by Mottola's antics.
There was also the very public fight over royalties with the Dixie Chicks, and the company's inability to make Celine Dion's recent album more than a middling hit.
But in the end, Mottola's ouster is more a result of bottom line numbers. Sony Music is No. 3 on the list of music companies and Columbia Records is third on the list of labels. The failure of the company to market albums by Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony and other acts sent their bottom line into a tailspin, and in the end it doesn't matter who likes you or who you don't like. It's about the money.
Of course, Mottola's hot temper didn't help. If you fell out of favor or seemed to be disloyal, bada bing — security guards escorted you to the door. With Mottola gone, there will now be rampant speculation about the future of his group including Don Ienner, Polly Anthony and most especially Michelle Anthony (the two are not related). There are going to be massive changes at Sony. One can only wonder if they'll end with the return of Michael Jackson. Stranger things have happened.
And what of Mottola? He'll start his own label, he has zillions of dollars, and still strikes fear into the hearts of strangers. He has always had a percentage interest in his own management company and that will be a place from which he can draw talent. I'll say this for him: for a long time, longer than most, Tommy Mottola made Sony/Columbia and the record business really interesting. Even when he was tough or seemed out of control, he was kind of brilliant. And he loved the music. That's not a bad legacy.
Believe it or not, Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean is still shooting. Will it be a hit, or Heaven's Gate? Or even worse, Waterworld with peg-legs.
Maybe you forgot. Maybe Jerry Bruckheimer Productions thought Disney wouldn't notice, but the blockbuster film based on the famed Disneyland ride of the same name went into production back on October 9th. That is, 2002. Now sources say that it's got a month to go before it wraps.
The $100 million extravaganza stars Geoffrey Rush, Johnny Depp, and Orlando Bloom (of Two Towers fame) as the eye-patch guys. No word on whether there's a parrot involved. Gore Verbinski, who directed Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt to their least successful moments in The Mexican, is in charge. The screenplay is by Terry Rossio .
Pirates sounds like a summer release, and may actually make its July 25th opening despite not being finished with principal photography. But here's a better question: who wants to see this movie? Fans of the ride? Another Disney ride, The Country Bears, albeit animated, was a bust at the box office as a film when it came out this fall. None of this bodes well for the former studio giant, which is also licking its wounds from the miserable showing of Treasure Planet .
This should be some Super Bowl halftime show coming up on January 26th.
Yesterday came word that Santana, the Dixie Chicks, Shania Twain and No Doubt are all scheduled for the big show. This means huge ratings and visibility for all the acts.
But I've also been told that Arista Records is hoping for a duet by Santana with Whitney Houston, their other act with a record in the stores right now needing help. The label has been leaning toward releasing yet another single from Houston's Just Whitney album called "Tell Me No," which was supposed to feature Carlos Santana on guitar. That was scuttled at the last minute.
Of course, Houston is capricious about her scheduling, so a live show (that's live as in alive, in case Ashanti is confused) is problematic. Houston was an hour late for her live to tape appearance on Good Morning America last month. That should give the NFL producers pause.
The NFL, producer Joel Gallen and co-producer Jimmy Iovine of Universal Music Group originally wanted Madonna on the show but couldn't convince her to do it, I'm told. Their next idea was a "divas" concept with Jennifer Lopez and the other ladies joining Bono from U2 on stage. Some surprise form of that may still occur, especially if it's impossible to lock Houston down. (Honestly, they'd have to make her sleep in the stadium overnight to ensure that appearance.) The NFL had been in negotiations with Madonna, a source tells me, but that deal fell apart.
Most of these artists will come to the Super Bowl courtesy of Universal Music Group's Iovine, who has a first look deal with the National Football League. That's why he's able to put all of his artists on the show. Last fall the deal bore its first fruit when Iovine convinced the NFL to showcase Bon Jovi on the special pre-season launch show. The result was a best-selling album for the long in the tooth group and now, voila!, a Grammy nomination.
Iovine is also said to be engaged in a turf war over at the music giant, which comprises Universal Records, Island Def Jam, Mercury, Geffen/A&M, Motown. Roc-a-Fella, Murder Inc and some other labels. Last month, sabers rattled at UMG when a story popped up in the press accusing Island Def Jam, a division of the company, of double-scanning CDs and double scamming SoundScan. No one knows who planted the story, but some are thinking it was an inside job designed possibly to scare the unscare-able Lyor Cohen , who runs Island Def Jam.
Having sold about 430,000 copies in the United States, Whitney Houston's album is a dismal sales failure. This week it fell out of the top 50 on hitsdailydouble.com and should do the same on the new Billboard charts.
And yet, Arista Records is now claiming the album, Just Whitney , is about to be certified platinum by the Record Industry Association of America. Platinum is for 1 million units sold, but here's the rub: Arista is claiming 1 million copies shipped to record stores. It doesn't matter if no one buys them and they're returned. That's the spin. Nice, huh?
Just Whitney has been available since October 21st on the internet, but has done little in the way of sales. Two singles have already failed, but a third one is being planned. Houston, as I reported here recently, took a $20 million cash advance from Arista last year against future royalties. Considering massive layoffs this week at Bertelsmann Music Group, Arista's parent company, this figure should come back to haunt some executives soon.