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Howard Stringer and the Sony Machine

posted on August 30th, 2006 by christian

So Wired.com has an article discussing Sony and how much they are betting on the Playstation 3 and it really got me thinking. The press, as well as gamers themselves, love to fling insults at Kaz Hirai, Phil Harrison, and Ken Kutaragi (many well deserved). However, there’s one name that is rarely dropped, though this man is arguably even more detrimental to Sony. I’m talking about Howard Stringer.

If you don’t know, Stringer is the current head honcho over at Sony. He also happens to come from the content side of the company. This is dangerous. Sony made their name on great hardware made by talented, motivated engineers. That same spirit is what led Kutaragi to make the Playstation in the first place. With Stringer at the helm, we’ve got a PS3 that insists on Blu Ray and insists on being an even bigger all-in-one media machine. Sony as a whole seems to be at war with itself, with the content and hardware guys coming to blows.

There’s a great part in that article where a woman asks why her Sony stock is tanking, and Stringer’s reply is about the DaVinci Code doing well at the box office. The man has one thing on his mind: proprietary Sony formats and Digital Rights Management being used to control as much electronic media and content as possible. This is what he wants the Playstation 3 to be used for. The same can be said for the PSP.

While Kutaragi, Hirai et al. have their own quirks and cocky attitude, I wonder how much of it is just a corporate face put on so they can have some confidence in their company. These men, Kutaragi in particular, took the industry by storm; they changed the way the game was played. It just seems strange to think they’d turn around and steer Sony towards the trainwreck so many are predicting. Unless someone else was there pulling the strings, that is. Is Stringer leading the company down the wrong path? Or is he going to save the company?

10 Comments

  1. Matt said on August 30, 2006:

    That article on Wired left a bad taste in my mouth. It just seemed poorly written to me. Anyway, Sony just has too much on its plate to contend with. If they were a primarily software based company it might work, but focusing on hardware is…, well, hard these days. Everyone wants it their way, but Sony needs it to be theirs. Do we need another disc format? Only Sony thinks so, because they don’t the own thats popular now. It just seems that Sony does things just to try and be #1 in all aspects of life, even if they can’t do it successfully. I think if you’re forced to do something, you probably shouldn’t even try. I personally think that Sony is en route for trouble come next year when no one cares about Blu-ray. Also, I do see it a little unfair to not blame Stringer on this situation. He’s the head, so why blame the other guys? It still comes down to the fact that the different parts of the company are just too big to get along with each other. Stringer is probably just playing referee now. 

  2. christian said on August 30, 2006:

    Well, the point of the blog post wasn’t as much the Wired article as much as the ideas it brought up.        Anyway, I don’t think Stringer is just playing referee.  The reason they brought him in as CEO is because the company desperately needed someone new there to mix things up, to steer it in the right direction.  A Japanese company doesn’t put a westerner in charge because they feel like it.  I have a feeling he’s got a very specific idea of where the company should go, and its a content, not a hardware direction.  The PS2 era Sony was already starting to lean that way, what with their music and movie biz getting bigger.  It only seems to be getting worse, and I don’t believe it is coincidence.

  3. Matt said on August 30, 2006:

    Can you really say it was content that Stringer wanted originally, though? They did try UMD with the PSP recently and that tanked. They have only started to think about using the Memory stick as an alternative. I don’t think Sony ever wants to be content driven, primarily. They have too much to lose from piracy then. They own too much entertainment mediums that can be stolen if they focus solely on the movie instead of the player. If Sony can control the means to view their movies, then they’ve won. But if the music, movies, etc. get out in the open because of software pirates, Sony’s business is done for. Thats Sony’s double-egde sword. They need to control their wares, but that means going against consumers’ wants and needs. 

  4. jay said on August 30, 2006:

    While compiling Reggie quotes the other day I came upon one that really struck me. Not because the idea was original, but because it’s exactly what I keep saying and finally someone in the industry said it. Nintendo is the only company in it for games. Sony is pushing the media station concept because they want to control your living room – games, movies, music, TV and stereo. They want you to buy media on all of their devices that they made themselves because proprietary formats yeild higher profit.

    Now is this stuff Stringer’s fault? Probably. Him or someone else up top who noticed how well the Play Station sells and decided to use it as a tool in their overall company goals. Kutaragi’s a jackass but his Play Station worked as a game system. So the company sat up and noticed. They decided to add some multimedia capability into the PS2. That worked, so now the PS3 will be a computer and time machine.

    The question I have is does Kutaragi simply repeat lines higher ups tell him or is he legitimately excited about changing his game system into a time machine?

  5. Matt said on August 30, 2006:

    I say time machine. Who wouldn’t want one of those? And only for the low-low price of $600!

  6. christian said on August 30, 2006:

    Matt your points about piracy are right on the money.  That’s why the content side is making sure to use the hardware to ensure that piracy is more difficult.  One of the reasons PS3 has been delayed was due to issues with Blu Ray. And I’m not talking about manufacturing issues; they had troubles "finalizing the design", and all signs pointed to them having troubles implementing good copy protection.  We had those rumors of PS3’s eliminating the used game market, and while they may be rumors, its still a scary thought.  You do bring up a good point; UMD has failed, and now they’re looking at alternatives.  But I don’t see them giving up the fight to try and make one of their proprietary formats win, because if it can then they have a real ace.  Do you think they have learned?  Let’s keep these ideas going!

  7. Matt said on August 31, 2006:

    Yeah, if Sony won the HD-format race this time around, then Sony would have an ace up there sleeve. I still can’t see its relevance, though. We’ve just got settled into DVD’s. Why bring up another format for movies? I’m basically calling out the HD era to begin with. It might be good for audio and video-philes, but the average joe couldn’t give two shits about 1080p and 25GB of data. There’s no way my grandma is going to buy a Blu-ray player, and that’s one of the keys to complete success: high penetration. It’s like the CD market. Music albums really only need 800MB. CD’s will never go out of existence because 13-20 songs is the perfect amount for any album. And 4.7GB’s is a good round number for movies. We get the movie and a whole mess of extras, which I’m willing to bet no one watches. Seeing a movie in 1080p isn’t going to justify this new format. Sony should of just waited a little longer when the HD drive in all americans hit a higher point. Right now, DVD’s are the norm that no one wants to leave yet.

  8. christian said on August 31, 2006:

    Matt, I agree with you, but we’re somewhat technophiles (any gamer kind of is).  The reason for Blu Ray is simple; it is another chance to implement a better copy protection scheme.  More importantly, it is another chance to get people to go out and rebuy their movie collections, many of which have films from Sony studios.  They need another excuse for people to buy and rebuy their content, and if they can get the public into a fervor for it, then all the common sense in the world about the uselessness of Blu Ray will mean little.  That, I think, is what they’re banking on.

  9. Matt said on August 31, 2006:

    Very true. Hmmm, that makes Sony almost smart… But it also brings up the issue of arrogance. Now they’re getting gamers mixed up in this war by putting Blu-ray in a PS3, which inflated the price astonomically. I know their reasons, and I’m willing to bet gamers are a good source of word of mouth, but I don’t want to spend several hundred dollars more because of it, and I know many people that agree with me. And look at the history of it all. Sony lost Betamax, MiniDisc, Atrac, and UMD. Can we really trust our investment with that kind of track-record?

  10. jay said on September 6, 2006:

    No, we can’t. I wrote about this stuff in this old article Enjoy the blast from lamer past. 

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