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Friday, April 01, 2005

Sony Does It

Back in January there was a lot of talk, here, on Russell Beattie's weblog, and elsewhere, about mobile media in general, and about, specifically, Nokia and Sony and Microsoft and what each of them was (or wasn't) doing to facilitate media downloads for mobile devices.

In fact, in an entry called Microsoft's Consumer Electronics Endgame, Russ pointed out that Microsoft was essentially stealing a march on its competitors with its strategy in this area. I distinctly remember posting a comment on that entry: "I was sure that Sony had seen this coming and sought to circumvent it by spending billions over the years to become a content provider for its own devices. It appears, however, that this isn't the case, since they've done nothing to utilize their media vault or integrate their entertainment and hardware divisions. How difficult would it be, to encode movies and TV episodes and offer them up at little cost for download to various Sony products, especially phones and handhelds? Or, failing that (because bandwidth is maybe still not there), offer them for purchase on flash media (MMC or Memory stick)? Something exactly like iTunes for the iPod, but in this case a broader media offering for Sony mobiles. They own a treasure vault of movies." Or words to that effect. I've since searched that entry and can't find my comment. Maybe I wrote it elsewhere. Whatever.

In any case, later that month (January), Sony announced that they were in fact planning something. No details were available at the time, but in a ZD Net article yesterday, the plan was made clear. Apparently Sony execs were thinking along exactly the lines I suggested. And the whole thing is pretty exciting.

According to the ZD Net article, Michael Arrieta, senior vice president of Sony Pictures, announced the details at a conference yesterday. Here is some of what he had to say.
"We want to set business models, pricing models, distribution models like (Apple Computer CEO Steve) Jobs did for music, but for the film industry," [said Arrieta], "I'm trying to create the new 'anti-Napster."

To that end, Arrieta said, his group plans to digitize Sony Pictures' top 500 films and make them available for the first time in various digital environments within the next year. He said the distribution for films like "Spider-Man 2" will go beyond just Movielink, the video-on-demand joint venture of Sony Pictures and several other major studios, which to date has hosted a limited library of Sony's movies.

For example, Sony plans to sell and make films available in flash memory for mobile phones in the next year, Arrieta said. It also will further develop its digital stores for downloading and owning films on the PC, he said in an interview. Sony's plans--and similar moves by other studios--are likely to avoid empowering any one technology company--such as Apple in the music equation--and allow studios to pocket more of the profits. The philosophy in Hollywood is "Define your own agenda or someone else will for you."
Clearly, then, Sony execs are getting back into the game. Perhaps the new CEO, Howard Stringer, has the broad picture vision many of us assumed he'd lack.

Thebusiness about creating the "anti-Napster" sounds kind of scary. And we've no reason not to take him at his word. On the other hand, it is an obligatory statement for a Hollywood exec to make. And perhaps Sony realizes that the best way to re-route developing download habits (read: defeat so-called piracy), is to offer high-quality content at extremely low prices. If I had access to over 500 films, perfectly encoded for use on my (former) Nokia 3650, and if each of them cost, say, five dollars: I wouldn't really care if they were DRMed. Especially if I could transfer them to a limited number of other devices. I can imagine having a whole library of films, and renting those I don't want to buy. It's the video sales/rental business, all over again.

Will it stop the free exchange of content across the Internet? No. But it will make Sony devices an attractive portal for good, cheap, easy-to-acquire media. And that will go a long way toward forming people's habits.

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