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Sony's Hirai hopes for quick start to online content service

Martyn Williams | Nov. 23, 2009
The just-announced Sony Online Service could be here in the next few months

TOKYO, 20 NOVEMBER 2009 - Sony is hoping to launch its planned online content service early next year and expects it will give the company an advantage in the increasingly competitive consumer electronics market, the executive heading up the project said Friday.

"I'd like it to get off the ground as quickly as possible," said Kaz Hirai, executive vice president of Sony and head of its Networked Products & Service Group, in an interview at the company's Tokyo headquarters. "Earlier in the year is more preferable."

The service, provisionally dubbed the "Sony Online Service," seeks to bring movies, music, books, games and other content to networked consumer electronics devices including Bravia TVs, Walkman music players, Vaio computers and Sony Ericsson cell phones.

It's an expansion of the successful PlayStation Network that has attracted 33 million users in its first 3 years of operation and provides a mixture of free and paid content. Sony is expecting sales of ¥50 billion (US$563 million) from the PlayStation Network this year and the new online service will run on the same infrastructure. The same user ID will work on both services.

The new service has a sales target of ¥300 billion in 2012 but it will also provide a range of free content to all users. Sony isn't "closing the door on all the good stuff that we provide for free," said Hirai.

In the U.S. the PlayStation Network carries content from all the major Hollywood studios and many major U.S. TV networks in addition to Sony's own content and Sony hopes to duplicate this on the new online service. Outside of the U.S. the PlayStation Network is being expanded -- video downloads began on Thursday in France, Germany, Spain and the U.K. -- and Sony hopes the new online service will follow a similar path.

Looking a little further ahead Hirai said the service could be expanded to products offered by other manufacturers, but that isn't initially being considered.

"The first priority is for us to make sure the Sony Online Service is a point of differentiation for all Sony devices," he said.

"Given what we bring to the table, the range of content and breadth of hardware in combination, if done right will be a successful formula," he said.

But getting it right isn't perhaps as easily said as done. Sony has tried to pool its resources before.

"We've had our fits and starts," said Hirai, citing the Connect service as one example. Connect was meant to bring audio content from Sony Music and other labels to Walkman music players but failed to make a dent in the dominance of Apple in that market.


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