James Bond is back, dominating the box office as expected. There's just one problem: Exactly none of it matters for Sony (NYSE:SONY), parent of Bond distributor Columbia Pictures. The stock is down more than 40% year to date.
Surprised? Don't be. Columbia is only the distributor, not the producer. Eon Productions and parent Danjaq of the U.K. control the rights to the Bond franchise. Sony is also a conglomerate that gets more revenue from financial services (872 billion yen) than it does from moving pictures (658 billion yen), according to S&P Capital IQ.
Bond with benefits
Skyfall, the 23rd installment in a series that dates back to 1962's Dr. No, earned $87.8 million at the U.S. box office over the opening weekend, The Los Angeles Times reports . Walt Disney's (NYSE:DIS) record-breaking animated hit, Wreck-It Ralph, finished a distant second at $33.1 million in domestic ticket sales.
Skyfall's U.S. debut was the best ever for a Bond film, and follows a rousing European tour that has already accounted for $428.6 million in ticket sales, Box Office Mojo reports. Quantum of Solace, actor Daniel Craig's previous film as Agent 007, set the previous record when it opened at $67.5 million in November 2008.
Might Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) have helped boost sales? The streaming sensation offers a selection of 007's adventures that competitor Hulu doesn't. Bond may very well have been among the service's more viewed series when Superstorm Sandy forced millions of East Coast workers to become shut-ins last month. Overall, Netflix accounts for one-third of prime-time downstream Web traffic, according to data compiled by Sandvine.
Premium theater experiences could also be playing a role. According to Deadline Hollywood, Skyfall producers worked with IMAX (NYSE:IMAX) to increase the aspect ratio of the film in order to show 26% more of the original captured image on IMAX's super-screens.
Similarly, Carmike Cinemas (NASDAQ: CKEC) had announced plans to screen Skyfall a day early in certain markets in premium theaters it calls "BIGD" for how they offer 80 feet of screen width running three stories high.
So far, 2012 is shaping up to be a strong year for theater operators. A total of 582 films have generated $9.14 billion in domestic box office receipts, Box Office Mojo reports, highlighted by Disney's $1.5 billion blockbuster The Avengers. Other big winners include The Dark Knight Rises, which has earned $1.08 billion worldwide for Time Warner (NYSE:TWX), and The Hunger Games, which has brought in $686 million for Lions Gate Entertainment (NYSE:LGF-A).
This month and next promise a smattering of smaller releases tucked in around tentpole openings: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 for Lions Gate, Life of Pi for News Corp.'s (NASDAQ:FOX) 20th Century Fox, and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey for Warner Bros.
Sony's film slate is sparser. Zero Dark Thirty, a thriller that dramatizes the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, debuts on Dec. 19. Next year brings 14 more features, highlighted by sequels (i.e., Grown Ups 2, The Smurfs 2, and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2) and remakes (i.e., Carrie and Evil Dead).
Which is to say that Sony investors have as little to look forward to at the cinema as they do tuning in to the company's typically awful financial reports. Frankly, that's a shame.