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Sony CEO stays positive despite economic crisis

Posted: 12 Jan 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:consumer electronics? Sony CEO policies? Blu-ray?

Sony Corp. CEO Howard Stringer, keynote speaker at the opening of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), cheerfully depicted the current worldwide economic crisis as a temporary "challenge" that will eventually succumb toamong other forcesthe "innovative" power of the CE industry.

As comparable challenges, Stringer cited Sony's recent victory in the format battle between its high-definition DVD platform, called Blu-Ray, and a platform called HD-DVD. He alsosomewhat unfortunatelycompared the promised economic turnaround to the commercial success of HDTV, a process that actually unfolded over a period of more than 20 years.

Having thus addressed the economy, Stringer transformed his keynote address into a keynote cavalcade of Sony products and celebrity cameos.

Among the stars with whom Stringer shared the stage before an eageralthough depletedCES audience at the Sands/Venetian Convention Center were actor Tom Hanks, TV physician Dr. Mehmet Oz, baseball hall of famer Reggie Jackson, Disney CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and a 3D 50-foot cartoon woman named Susan, star of an upcoming Disney/Pixar film called "Monsters vs. Aliens."

'Lucky seven'
Stringer ran the gamut of Sony products from a new Wi-Fi Cyber-Shot camera, advanced OLED e-reader technologies and new PlayStation applications to digital cinema advancements, bendable video screens and a clock-radio that relentlessly wakes its owner in the morning to his or her favorite music and the latest news, weather, sports and Dow Jones results.

In addressing the overall concerns of his industry in what he admitted are hard times, Stringer offered a "lucky seven" series of policies that consumer electronics companies "must have" in the coming years.

He said that the industry must first embrace the fact that the consumer electronics IT industry and the entertainment industry have effectively joined forces and must continue to "interact seamlessly."

He said, second, that CE has to become more and more a "service-enhanced" industry, "or we risk obsolescence."

Third, he said, products "must be multi-functional," so that consumers can manage them across different environments.

Fourth, to make this possible, said Stringer, companies must support open technologies. "Consumers expect choices," he said. "They expect their device to work with any device."

Fifth, said Stringer, the industry should advance the new era of shared experiences on the Internet via numerous devices.

Sixth, companies must create new value streams toward the goal of "an overall better user experience." He cited Blu-Ray and HDTV as examples of this aspiration.

Finally, echoing CEA President Gary Shapiro's opening remarks, Stringer said the consumer electronics industry has to "go green."

Crossing over politics
With Stringer largely avoiding the economic issues that overshadow CES only two weeks before the inauguration of President Barack Obama, CEA president Shapiro accepted that hot potato.

It was Shapirobefore introducing Stringerwho admitted that for the first time in seven years, the CE industry is projecting an overall depletion in revenue next year, although only six-tenths of a percent. This compares to 5.4 percent growth in 2008. He predicted positive growth again by 2010.

Also on the positive side, Shapiro noted that the consumer electronics industry has sought no help from the federal government and is capable of weathering the recession on its own. "We are the industry that will breathe life into the economy," Shapiro said.

Venturing gingerly into politics, he said he was neither a Democrat nor a Republican, although he praised President-elect Obama as "the first digital president," who inspired the nation with "a message of change."

He added that Americans reinforce their desire for change every time they buy a new consumer electronics device.

Shapiro went on to warn the new administration, however, that as "the voice of consumer technology on Capitol Hill," the CEA will "advocate forcefully for policies that support innovation."

In repeating the word "innovation" throughout both their speeches, Shapiro and Stringer appeared to be warning the new administration against new post-Bush era regulations that might cramp the industry's style.

Shapiro went on, "Some politicians think they know more about technology than we doOur job is to educate them, and to let the market place dictate" the economy's course.

The latter reference to the "unfettered" free market was reinforced when Shapiro made his only specific policy warning, stating the CEA's opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act, a measure supported by Obama, which eliminates most barriers to workers seeking representation by labor unions.

The law, introduced in 2007, would also punish companies who take illegal steps to dissuade collective bargaining. It was strongly opposed by the Bush administration.

3D era
In his moment on the CES stage with Stringer, Disney/Pixar CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, clarified unequivocally his commitment to 3D filmmaking. Before running a clip from "Monsters vs. Aliens" in which the Golden Gate Bridge is destroyed, Katzenberg said, "Beginning this year, every film [from Pixar] will be authored in 3D."

- David Benjamin
EE Times

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