With PlayStation network, Sony goes back to the future in search of revival

Mon Jul 28, 2014 5:03pm EDT
 
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By Reiji Murai

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's Sony Corp is hammering out plans to rise from the ashes of nearly $10 billion lost in six years by building a future around its last consumer electronics blockbuster - the PlayStation.

Sony plans to reposition the video console warhorse as a hub for a network of streamed services, according to three senior officials, offering social media, movies and music as well as games. The executives spoke to Reuters on condition they not be named because the matters are still in early stages of discussion.

The plans to coax more revenue from the PlayStation's network of users are being developed by a new breed of managers brought in by Chief Executive Kazuo Hirai. Analysts say if Sony gets it right, the game and network business could earn about $1 billion in the fiscal year from April 2016 - making it the most profitable part of the company bar a financial services unit.

"Network services have been a long-running issue for Sony," said Atsushi Osanai, associate professor at Waseda University's business school. It's a field Apple Inc has dominated with iTunes, while established movie and music services like Netflix Inc and Spotify are expanding fast.

"In the past there was a time when they (Sony) were all over the place and went after everything, but zeroing in first on game users is effective," said Osanai. The company's next progress report will come with its first-quarter earnings on July 31.

At 200 billion yen ($1.96 billion) last fiscal year, some 90 percent of it from games, Sony Entertainment Network's revenue is small compared with the 5 trillion yen at the company's broader electronics business. The division lost 10 billion yen last year and more losses are expected this year as it spends on servers and systems for a surge in users, but the executives - and analysts - expect it to ramp up quickly after that to double-digit margins.

The new thinking is far from Sony's first effort to kickstart a revival. Yet the company that was once the symbol of Japan's technology prowess has often failed in attempts to deliver innovative hits to match successes of old, like the Walkman music player.

The managers lining up Sony's new strategy know a PlayStation network won't fix mainstream loss-making businesses, like its TV division - "a grim electronics portfolio", according to brokerage Jefferies. It's also not the first time Sony has tried to develop networked content services.   Continued...

 
A white Sony Playstation 4 is on display at the 2014 Electronic Entertainment Expo, known as E3, in Los Angeles, California June 11, 2014.  REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian