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back to article Can Sony's new supremo make the sacrifices to save his biz?

When Faultline first began following Sony in 2003, it was worth $36 billion on the stock market. At the time Apple was worth $9.8 billion and it was about to launch the iTunes Music Store. We said that Sony should buy Apple and put Steve Jobs in charge. Of course it was whimsical, Apple and Jobs in particular would never have …

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FAIL

Schizophrenic business

On the one hand we have the Sony content business whose management seems to want to control consumption to make breach of copyright by consumers difficult, ( to the extent of playing fast and loose with the law as with the Sony CD rootkit on one occasion). On the other hand we have the Sony consumer electronics business which is attempting to transform content from one format to another better and more flexibly than any competitors products so that consumers are restricted less than by any competitor's products.

This creates a conflict of interest, in which one side of the business is determined that the other side should fail. The way Sony treated George Hotz and the backlash which resulted didn't win Sony any new friends but it resulted in many previous customers ceasing to purchase Sony products.

Best for the 2 divisions to agree an amicable split and for these to become 2 separately managed concerns, a bit like the way there is no longer any connection between Rolls Royce aero engines and Rolls Royce cars. These 2 divisions are likely to be worth much more apart than trying to fight an internal war amongst themselves together in name only.

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Silver badge

Best for the 2 divisions to agree an amicable split

Yes, they are not going to go anywhere they way they are.

Apple's walled garden has worked because they were able to get their walls around most of the other gardens. Most of the big things people want can be found inside itunes.

A Sony only garden can't compete, other labels are not going to be in a hurry to give their stuff to Sony.

Even if they split it's not a sure thing (MS is on their third attempt with Windows Phone after "plays for sure" and Zune failed) but they have no chance as they are.

You can't make content work better on Sony devices, you can only make it work worse on other devices by crippling it. That just ends up with the bootleg being better then the official copy.

Sony Music is Schizophrenic enough all on it's own. I was creating a webpage for a Japanese band's visit to Canada so I had to deal with their label Sony. One group giving me pictures and video clips another telling me to remove them, and another telling me that they had to be impossible to download from our site (told them our security was equal or better then their site... right click, save as) and required that I post iTunes links... for US iTunes as they were not available from iTunes.ca.

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FAIL

It could only be Sony...

From the tech perspective I remember the Sony AIT product set, punted as the helical scan LTO killer. The roadmap was great in theory but the product was short lived because capacities grew and AIT couldn't keep up, albeit Super AIT which in itself was a linear technology and an expensive one at that too.

The Sony monitors, expensive and loved by those who has them on their desks, then like the flick of a light switch, Sony killed the product range overnight. The reasoning was the fact that competitors (LG & Samsung) were out pricing Sony, so they withdrew from the market hastily.

On the consumer side, Sony, as the Walkman / Discman pioneers had the portable / personal music market it their hands, but the Joker (Apple) marketed their MP3 player better and Sony again took a back seat in a market where they had every opportunity to continue their dominance.

The PlayStation was the cash cow for Sony, but competition from Microsoft (who's maiden Xbox sported a HDD) and Nintendo who wooed gamers with cheaper and (in the case of the Wii) simpler products that once again ate into Sony's once dominant market share

Sony's marriage to Ericcson gave them a great phone range, but niggling little issues like bespoke charger and interface cables ruined the product. I always like the Sony Ericcson phones for the sheer camera quality, but a smart phone needs more than just a kick ass camera.

Yes, Sony is a quality product, no denying that, but I believe they have also suffered collateral damage with the PSN hacking fiasco too. That in itself is enough to make a concerned (or paranoid) parent choose an XBox 360 over a PlayStation for their kids.

Perhaps Sony can pick itself up from this slump, the name reeks quality but the premium across the product range has consumers looking at alternatives.

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Vic
Silver badge

> Yes, Sony is a quality product

Actually, this is frequently not the case.

When I joined Sony, it had exactly that reputation; you'd pay more money for a Sony product, but you'd get better quality. But that quality was often illusory - inside the box would be exactly the same reference design that everyone else was using. The name sold the product.

I left Sony when I could no longer stand pumping out shite product with a premium price.

Vic.

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Anonymous Coward

The product reeked (past) not reeks quality. Now, it just reeks. Sony products tend to come with too many pupet strings attached. Look at the PS linux crap. Sure, 98% of people don't care, but the 2% that did are the people who would be listened to when recomending the product. The sony rootkit, the PSN debacle, the crapy quality of all of the monitor products they put out all led to them being worth what they are worth now.

Sony sat on it's backside and decided "we are right, customer will buy our stuff no matter what we do, let's screw them over any way we can" and they are finding out first hand what kind of results that gives.

Removing functionnality after something is sold, packaging a TROJAN with your music CD and crapy security all led to people realising it was not only safer, but cheaper to deal with another compagny.

I still get calls from people who's computer is completly compromised thanks to crapy sony CDs. Fun part is trying to get them to return the CDs after.

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Silver badge

"If you tell a movie studio to give Sony devices an edge, you invariably damage profit at the studio, and it's not a trivial problem to solve."

More to the point, that's an impossible command. The movie studio produces its best*. It can thereafter decide to cripple the content it provides to non-Sony devices, but that is not quite the same thing as giving Sony devices an edge.

Specifically, consumers tolerate actions that restrict their choice only if it improves their experience significantly. That's the only reason Apple's walled garden has grown (though even that is beginning to show some cracks.) Sony has lost their lead, and so has to either a) learn to play by the rules, or b) come up with something truly revolutionary, as they had done in the past.

Finally, Apple is NOT the company Sony's wanted to become: It's the company Sony WAS (with a slightly different base technology). I hope for his sake that Tim Cook has done a LOT of research into the decline of Sony, because he's going to work very hard to prevent that happening to Apple.

*Within the constraints of technological resources and artistic ability, of course...

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Anonymous Coward

Sony

Is extraditing one of our college students to the US for linking to copyrighted material, something that isn't even a crime,... well I won't be buying any of their products.

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Silver badge

Sony

are now reaping what they sow...

crApple will soon enough realise the same......When you get to the top, its bloody difficult to stay there!!!

I hope to see the day crApple fall from grace the same way Sony are doing so.....

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There's always one...

Who throws the Apple equation into the discussion and ruins the debate...

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Anonymous Coward

Brilliant!

Your clever way of writing Apple just make me want to throw everything I've bought from them away. Please keep doing it, I am sure people will soon realize you're smart and witty and know better than us and follow suit. Soon even the shareholders will demand Apple to close shop and give up on making phones, computers and iPads.

You will be hailed as a GENIUS. No, as a GOD.

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Anonymous Coward

It's pretty much impossible for Sony (or any Japanese based company) to shed jobs and withdraw from sectors. It's just not the Japanese way. Sony like the nation itself faces a long slow decline into obscurity unable to do what it has to survive as that would be un-Japanese.

Sad, but true.

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Silver badge

Indeed that would be the Japanese way, but Sony's biggest problems don't come from the Japanese mind-set, but from adopting the bully-boy litigious USA mind-set from the movie/music division they bought in to (and similar leadership).

Why I avoid Sony has little to do with the cost, but to do with a lack of trust (CD rootkit & PS2 fiasco) and their insistence in a lot of cases of doing thing "their way" by adopting propitiatory standards when there are other interchangeable ones around (e.g. the memory stick for cameras/camcorders, instead of CF or SD, springs to mind, failing to see mini-disk were past it once flash memory was cheap & big enough, etc).

Maybe they have improved, not sure as I don't follow them now. If they do want to solve their problems, fist step is to separate electronics completely from content, next is to listen to users and to make thing work well. If it really high quality, then you can get a premium price.

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Unhappy

No no no no

The LAST thing Sony should be doing is trying to make a custom content network. You're basically advising them to jump right back into the pattern of making an overpriced copy of what everyone else has already beaten them at.

what sony needs right now is a more outward and cooperative attitude with existing networks, signing leases with netflix et al to let them do what they do best, while funneling money to sony's cofferd without the senseless expense of trying to recreate what is already available.

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Silver badge

But for one thing.

Unlike Apple, Sony is a content PRODUCER. They can do the one thing Apple can't, and that's make their own media and have full control over it. One reason BluRay won the format war was because there was no way you would see a Sony, Columbia, TriStar,, MGM, or United Artists title on HD-DVD (because Sony owns Columbia/TriStar and is part of the consortium that owns MGM and thus United Artists). So what if Sony starts walling off their own content which happens to include movies people actually watch (artistic merits notwithstanding).

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Anonymous Coward

Stringer's been the main problem since he got the job

Stringer, lacking even a smidgeon of tech nous,was a disaster for Sony, prick even had the gall to blame talented Sony engineers for the screw-ups on the PS3, although he was clearly responsible for most of the screw-ups.

Too bad they didn't get rid of the prick a lot sooner.

Another case of a knighthood for failure, stupidity, or simple treachery to the employer.

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Bronze badge
FAIL

Err, no, actually Jobs DID go to Sony proposing to work together...

...but the old farts at the Japanese HQ were put off by the arrogant @sshole called Steve Jobs.

It was reported by multiple sources eg WIRED that Jobs REPEATEDLY sought to start a partnership with Sony circa 2002 (presumably because of their consumer electronic hardware expertise as well as their common 'lock-in' approach) but...

"Sony would gain an edge on its margin-scraping competitors, the fruits of Apple's creative hothouse, and a devoted customer base in influential sectors like publishing and advertising. Not to mention that a deal with Apple could provide leverage against Microsoft's unrelenting attempts to make Sony one more manufacturing lackey.

Jobs, who has singled out Sony as worthy of praise, sat down several times last year with its CEO, Nobuyuki Idei, to discuss joint ventures. The talks didn't go far. Idei was reportedly impressed by Jobs' ideas but put off by his arrogance and scrapped the negotiations. Idei might want to schedule another meeting. In June, he faced a crowd of irate shareholders demanding to know how the company managed to lose almost $1 billion in the first three months of 2003.

Fact is, Idei needs a bold stroke, or his days are numbered. If Sony's up to the challenge of working with a quirky phenom, it could do worse than to adopt Apple. The formula for success is simple. Just give Jobs lots of room and a vastly expanded audience, then sit back and watch the hits keep on coming.

Now for the tricky part - convincing Steve Jobs to sell."

Here: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.09/start.html?pg=2

Rest is history: Idei lost his position to an American, along with Sony's CE market share while Apple became the world's biggest tech company by selling CE gadgets Sony used to sell.

Oh well, the results of Japanese "meritocracy" at its best.

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Facepalm

PS:

...I know, I know, Idei's successor Stringer is a *Welsh-born* American, sorry. ;)

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Silver badge
FAIL

Sony are dicks

Just about every single product aside from their excellent monitors have been "proprietaried" and DRMed to hell. They make one-off non-standard stuff like memory sticks, and make implementing the technology a living hell of licensing, so it never gets used outside their own product line.

Things like cameras will have their own unique cables and protocols. They make the Vaio PCs incompatible and strange on purpose, making it really difficult to run anything other than Windows on them. Same for their cool little Vaio UX pocket PCs.

Anything they make is awesome at what it does, but it'll be hell to pay trying to get it to play nice with anything else. They don't ever want to cooperate with the rest of the planet.

"Fail" icon because I hope they do.

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Anonymous Coward

Last Sony product I bought was a DVD player. Yes it played DVDs, but I hated every time I used it. It felt like it (the DVD player) knew what I wanted and just ignored any of my attempts to get it to listen to me. It was at that point that I decided that I'd rather have a cheap Chinese DVD player that just worked, rather than an expensive Sony one that didn't.

The Memory Sticks look silly with hindsight, but they actually had a significant market share in their hayday. But (AFAIK) it was their prohibitive licensing that meant nobody else could use them and effectively forced the rest of the industry onto SD cards.

You would have thought they would have learnt from the Betamax saga.

But third time is the charm, looking at your Bluray.

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MJI
Silver badge

I will buy Sony if

passes my tests.

Does it work well?

Is it good value?

Is it well made?

Unfortunately for them they are failing some of the above more often than they should.

Pioneer won the DVD player purchase for me, decently made and good performance DVD-A/SACD handling was the winning reason.

As to proprietry, not really, they just lost format wars, as above MemoryStick due to licencing, Beta due to studios (why they bought Columbia), Minidisc due to the rise in flash and people holding on to tape and CD.

But then Sanyo made Beta decks, a little crude but very long lasting - with good performance, quite a few companies did Minidisc.

Back in the CRT era Sony were the best TVs around, a lot of people still remember that.

Last win of theirs was video camera, as they were the best HDV I could find which I could afford.

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Anonymous Coward

So basically..

The only way to save Sony is to act very un-japanese.

As an employee in another Japanese company which is facing the same kinds of problems I can tell you there is a snowball's chance in hell of this happening. Sony (like my company) is still seen as a traditional job-for-life place with a traditional Japanese management mindset.

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Thumb Up

Sony products

After the fall of Minolta, my SLR and DSLR future ended up in the hands of Sony.

It turns out that, at least so far, this has been magic. I own their Alpha 850 24 Mp full-frame DSLR. It's a delight to use, and the images are stunning. And it was way cheaper than approximate Nikon or Canon equivalents.

And although I haven't played with them (yet?) the new cameras with 24 Mp APS-C sensors and beautiful OLED viewfinders seem to be well-sorted and receiving lots of (mass-market photo mag) praise.

So it looks as though at least one part of Sony can do a good job, albeit one without billions in revenue.

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MJI
Silver badge

Imaging

But this is one area Sony still do well in, hence my video camera purchase, was between them and Canon, came to features and price in the end.

Ever since the start of home video Sony has been a leading company.

Video Cameras - well they are good performing but not always the best featured. I remember really wanting a JVC camera (and 14pin K adaptor) which was very well featured with a good zoom ect. GX-N70 I think. Then there was a Panasonic camera which was pretty good. However I also remember the move to all in ones and laughing at the poor low light colour of a 10lux CCD Panasonic vs my 35lux tube Sony. HVC4000 after they were boasting of their cameras low light performance.

They were well made these early 80s cameras. However there was ONLY ONE decent portable VCR, the Panasonic NV180 was not very good, nor was the JVC with mini tapes, the most popular accessory for the JVC was the 14 pin K adaptor lead - seen quite a few of these plugged into a Sony portable. I have (it still works) a Sony SL-F1UB portable VCR, by far and away the best of the early portables, MUCH better picture quality than the Panasonic or JVC.

The move to all in ones killed the seperates, I used mine until the tube failed in the late 90s (I had no money then due to mortgage).

I think that if Sony ever let the ball drop on imaging they will go under, it is one of their few we are best of markets.

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