Last Thursday Jon and I traveled down to Sony Electronics headquarters in San Diego for an afternoon talking TV and checking out product demos with company executives and other members of the media. The afternoon kicked off with an intimate Q&A session with Sony Electronics President and COO Phil Molyneux, who took the reigns last September after 23 years in Sony’s European electronics operations.
“We must stand out from the crowd with deliberately differentiated entertainment experiences,” said Molyneux. That remark was made in answer to a question about Sony’s Android tablet plans, but it was also a theme that echoed throughout the afternoon. From TVs to tablets, cameras to headphones, Molyneux’s goal for Sony Electronics is to be “number one across all of our markets.” To do that, he said, Sony must “differentiate and value out the message of our products” and stand out in what he calls the “sea of sameness” consumers face when, for example, they face a wall of LCD TVs in a Best Buy or Target store.
That mission statement was clearly shared by the other Sony execs who joined us later in the day, including Sr. SVP for the Home Division, Mike Abary. Sony Electronics is revamping their branding in their own Sony Style stores and with an eye towards creating “Golden Spaces” in other retail outlets, the latter being a kiosk-type area that functions as a sort of store within a store highlighting Sony-only products “in this unique environment where the consumer can interact, play, listen, and see.” The vision is a clear one, and Sony Electronics has the deep product lineup and retail clout necessary to execute on it.
What’s not so clear, right now, however, is whether or not the average TV shopper will immediately see a difference between, say, Sony Internet TV and Sony Connected TV when weighing his options at the local big box retailer. For the record, Sony “Internet TV” refers to their Google TV powered HDTVs and standalone connected Blu-Ray player, while “Connected TV” is the company’s name for sets that can pull down Internet video via embedded widgets. I was in a room with a giant example of each technology and it still took me awhile to grasp the difference, which boils down to whether or not you want a Web browser on the same screen as your video content while you watch.
While Sony currently offers both types of Web-ready TVs, I get the feeling the company is planning to put more weight behind Google TV products once some of the technical and business kinks in the platform are worked out. As Molyneux put it, “As we go forward, people will want more access to the programming and the internet content at the same time.” Sony Internet (Google) TV can do that, Sony Connected TV can’t – so there you go. Also mentioned was the idea that Sony may differentiate their Google TV products with exclusive apps and access to Sony-owned entertainment content. “Google TV is an open platform and Sony plans to leverage that,” Abary said.
Nobody from Sony Electronics would speak to rumors surrounding one or more Android-powered tablets, possibly with “PlayStation Certified” status, being in the works for this year. Also met with “no comments” were questions around a possible Google TV powered Playstation console, though company reps were quick to point out that PS3 already offers a Web browser along with Netflix and other internet video capabilities.