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Sony Can't Hide 'Blu' Fever

6 Jan, 2008 By: Erik Gruenwedel


LAS VEGAS—Sony Corp. chairman and CEO Howard Stringer could barely contain his glee at Sony Electronics' Jan. 6 pre-Consumer Electronics Show presentation.

“As you can probably guess, all of us at Sony are feeling Blu today,” Stringer said to laughter. “And that's a good feeling.”

Of course, he was referring to Warner Bros.' announcement Jan. 4 that it will release its next-generation packaged media exclusively on Blu-ray Disc beginning in May.

The studio had been supporting rival format HD DVD also, and the anticipated defection to Blu-ray is seen by many as a mortal blow to the HD DVD camp and an end to the protracted format war.

Stringer thanked Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes and chairman Barry Meyer for making the best decision in the long-term for the consumer. He also gave kudos to longtime Blu-ray supporters Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Co., Rupert Murdoch and Peter Chernin, chairman/CEO and president/COO, respectively, at News Corp., parent of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, in addition to Lionsgate and MGM.

“I don't know if that's the reason for the full house, and I'm sure you want me to say more,” Stringer said. “But I won't.”

David Bishop, president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, said Warner's decision will help change Sony's focus.

“Now our message to the consumer will be [about] converting from DVD to Blu-ray and not this message … that has basically been that our format is better than their format,” Bishop said.

He said the consumer will ultimately decide whether the format war was over, but in the short term, the executive said Blu-ray had a lot more momentum coming out of the fourth quarter.

Bishop said Sony and other studios won't abandon current Blu-ray marketing tactics, which he said included educating consumers and retailers.

“The marketing message now will be more about how the consumer moved from VHS to DVD and that it is now time to move to Blu-ray,” he said. “We can do that with a lot more confidence, and the consumer can have a lot more confidence than they had a week ago.”

At a press conference earlier, Jodi Sally, VP of marketing for digital audio and video at Toshiba America Consumer Products, said it was difficult to read reports that HD DVD was finished.

"We've been declared dead before,” Sally said.

Citing third-party data, Sally said HD DVD players represented more than 49% HD players sold up through Dec. 22. The NPD Group numbers apparently don't include sales of the Sony PlayStation 3 console, which features a Blu-ray drive.

Akio Ozaka, head of Toshiba America Consumer Products, said the company was surprised by Warner's announcement.

"We were particularly disappointed that the decision was made in spite of the significant momentum HD DVD has gained," Ozaka said.

He said HD DVD player sales had their best sales ever in the fourth quarter.

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