CES 2012: Sony Entertainment Network ‘ready to take on Apple’

Sony boss Sir Howard Stringer says his company’s ‘Entertainment Network’ can become global a global source of films and music ‘very, very quickly’ – and that exclusive movies are still a possibility.

Sir Howard Stringer said he expected Japan to return to nuclear power despite the unfolding nuclear reactor crisis

Sir Howard Stringer said Sony will use its ‘Entertainment Network’ to take on Apple Photo: AP

The Chief Executive, Chairman and President of the Japanese entertainment giant echoed the firm’s founder by saying that “content and hardware belong together like wheels on a car”, and claimed at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that the music and movie network that is available across almost all new Sony products was ready to be a global force.

Describing SEN as “a tripartite attack on the world”, Sir Howard said “we’ve got content, we’ve got hardware and we’ve got networks – the only question is can we marry them and get it right”. But he conceded that consumers still needed the whole idea of internet enabled, “connected televisions” explaining to them. Kaz Hirai, Sir Howard’s deputy, added that it was Sony’s job to get users excited: “we need to get it to the stage where you go out and buy a TV, plug it in to the power and the second thing you do is connect it to a network,” he said. “We need to improve content availability, make it as easy as possible and talk about it as much as possible.”

The bullish talk about Sony’s network has been prompted both by threats from Amazon, Apple and Google’s own platforms, and also by the as-yet unannounced Apple TV hardware. This is especially important for Sony’s new strategy to make its TV division profitable by 2014 by concentrating on more expensive, high-end hardware. The company is demonstrating a new “Crystal LED” screen, which Sir Howard said was simply “the best out there”.

“Do we expect to face Apple as a competitor? Yes”, said Sir Howard. “Hardware is the power, software is the speed and Steve Jobs married them more effectively at the beginning of the century. I’m very interested in Apple TV and occasionally think of it as another box – but we don’t need that other box. We have the same elements that Steve had, and SEN can be global very, very quickly.”

He said that in India, where Sony has two of the country’s most popular TV channels, Sony was already known as a content company rather than primarily as a hardware manufacturer, and that the strategy would also be used for other developing in markets. The aim, Sir Howard said, would be “to sell as many televisions as possible” in China, driven by content deals.

While he conceded that 3D TV needed more time to gain widespread adoption, he added that more content needed to be produced first. “We did talk fondly of putting [new series] Pan Am in 3D. It would offset the scripts perhaps. But 3D doesn’t have to be crash, bang, wallop all the time. There’s never been a technology like this for which you haven’t had to be patient.”

Although the company’s video games division will be economically increasingly important to Sony, Sir Howard also claimed that it too was part of a “convergence story” that sees Sony rely on a “four screen strategy”, with laptops, its own newly launched mobile phones, TVs and tablets all offering a Sony Entertainment Network interface for a range of content. “We’ve had a lot of success with our own television shows in Japan,” he said. “And we released a Will Smith movie [Hancock] on our network first on a limited exclusive run.”

The controversial move, which saw SEN users able to watch a Sony-made film unavailable to other brands, caused what Sir Howard now describes as “a lot of discussion. How we use our content is always going to be critical – the SEN’s purpose was always to increase the sale of hardware and we have to be sensitive to our partners.

“People want content earlier and why should we surrender it to other partners earlier when we have it ourselves? But we are exploring it with a level of sensitivity you would expect from a company that’s on both sides of the fence.”