The resurgence of Sony

Ever since it began its operations in 1946, Sony Corporation (then known as Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo), has been one of the world’s most admired companies. The company has been at the forefront of innovation with products like the first transistorized radio, first transistorized  television, first transistorized tape recorder, and the first IC radio. I personally bought and experienced some of their products such as the Trinitron television and their first Walkman (in 1979). And I keenly followed the development of their Walkman products (buying several of those along the years), CD players, and television sets. I can see that Sony products excel on the design and innovation front, and are built to last. But in the age of iPads, iPods, and Galaxy Tabs, Sony has fallen by the wayside and is trying hard to catch up. It was disheartening to learn that Sony faced its fourth consecutive annual loss this year, with its stock value dropping more than 50 percent since 2005.

But on the positive side, Sony just got a new President & CEO (Kazuo Hirai) who has a plan to turn around the ailing electronics giant. Hirai (51), who is famously known for turning around Sony’s Playstation business, says he wants to drive growth in Sony’s core electronic businesses: digital imaging, smart phones, and gaming devices. And he wants to revive the television business. As a first step to doing this, Sony recently severed alliances with Sharp and Samsung, who previously manufactured flat panels and other components for Sony television sets.

Undoubtedly, Hirai and his team have big plans to revive Sony. But in my opinion, I think Sony needs a revolutionary product (like the Walkman or Trinitron television) to make a comeback. That product isn’t going to be a smart phone or tablet, because there are already established market leaders in those segments. And it isn’t going to be a television either (no matter how great the picture or sound is). It could be a Smart TV (linked to the Net) with gesture controls — but Samsung (and others) already have that.

So let’s take a look at what Sony’s got, and then try to come up with concept products that use elements from each.

Sony has got a huge catalog of content, by way of movies, games and music. And we know that it is richness and variety of content that makes a device really useful. It’s happening with the iPhone and iPad (with a huge library of apps).

Sony Pictures Entertainment the television and film production/distribution unit of Sony, acquired Columbia Pictures and Tri-star Pictures in 1989, and the legendary MGM Studios in 2005. With that, it gained access to a huge library of classics and Oscar winning films, not to mention associated franchising and merchandising properties.

Sony Music Entertainment is one of the big four record music companies in the world. Sony Music acquired CBS records in 1987, and some may remember that CBS produced best-selling albums such as Michael Jackson’s Thriller. And in 2004, Sony Music merged with Bertelsmann to form Sony-BMG ( 50:50 venture). With all these properties Sony now has the richest music catalog, that includes best selling acts such as the Beatles (through its merger with ATV Music Publishing). 

On the gaming front, Sony has seen success with its Playstation series and games that are exclusive to this platform.

So you can see that Sony has some rich assets on the content front, and these can be directed towards a more personal entertainment product. I am suggesting a product for News and Entertainment on the go. Those who have experienced the in-flight entertainment system aboard Emirates (ICE) or Singapore Airlines (KrisWorld) would appreciate the variety and volume of entertainment content.

I am suggesting that Sony use a platform, maybe the Playstation or its tablet, and tie this with a service (similar to iTunes). They could partner with a local provider for bandwidth and networks.

Sony might also want to consider an alliance with a leading News broadcaster (or maybe multiple alliances).

Another revolutionary product to consider is portable satellite radio.

With its huge catalog/library of rich entertainment content, its expertise in hardware design, and its spirit of innovation, Sony needs to find a way to bring it all together —  the way Steve Jobs did for Apple.