LAS VEGAS--It was fitting that in a city created as an elaborate fantasy world that a knight would get up on stage and tell us how to save the princess.
In this case, the knight is Sir Howard Stringer, CEO of Sony (and Knight Bachelor, a title awarded by the queen of England), and the princess is the consumer electronics industry. And according to Stringer, one of the keys to slaying the monster of the recession is the convergence of networked entertainment and technology.
In his keynote address on the opening day of CES here, besides pushing various Sony products like OLED TVs, Blu-ray players, and PlayStation 3, Stringer outlined a series of principles he says will be necessary to create consumer experiences that, if followed, will sustain the consumer electronics industry. The industry is expected to see negative growth for the first time in seven years.
"I can promise you the consumer electronics industry will ultimately prevail," Stringer told the large crowd gathered in the Venetian Hotel ballroom Thursday. "Because everyone is still innovating."
The principles, or "seven imperatives" are fairly broad: Embrace the convergence of IT, CE, and entertainment. Focus on adding value with customer service. Make products that do more than one thing. Support open technologies. Embrace social networking and user-created content. Make products whose value builds on each other. Go green.
Clearly, it was not only directed outwardly at the rest of the industry, but is intended as a new mission statement for his own company. Some of those goals--open technologies, products that interact with those from other manufacturers--aren't things Sony is known for in the industry. But Stringer said he "intend(s) to make this the total Sony experience."
To demonstrate, he brought a parade of celebrities and industry leaders onto the stage to demonstrate Sony's reach into film, music, television, gaming, sports, and, of course, technology, including several new products the company is cooking up in its R&D department.
First up was actor Tom Hanks, star of a new Sony movie (Angles & Demons) who singlehandedly stole the show, mocking the scripted lines Sony had written for him detailing how much he loved the company's products. "They write the lies, I tell the truth," Hanks joked to loud laughs from the audience.
Hanks provided much of the entertainment at the morning's event with similar off-the-cuff jabs at Sony. It was welcome, as most of Sony's most interesting announcements actually occurred the previous afternoon at its annual pre-CES press conference.
But Stringer did reserve a couple of nifty products to announce, like its new Wi-Fi-enabled Cybershot digital camera, which allows users to upload pictures directly to the Web. Stringer said there would be a lot more where this came from. The company's goal is that by 2011, 90 percent of its product categories will connect wirelessly to the Internet and to each other.
He also showed some concept products his engineers are working on, like the Wi-Fi clock radio. Partnering with Chumby, the maker of the too-cute-for-its-own-good hackable Wi-Fi gadget, Sony is working on a more elegant take on the idea, but keeping Chumby's open platform for which anyone can develop a widget.
Sony's been pushing Blu-ray for home video for a while, but it's also moving to promote 3D for movie theaters. Stringer brought out Pixar's John Lasseter and DreamWorks Animation's Jeffrey Katzenberg to try to hype the two entertainment formats. There are three competing 3D technologies right now, and it appears based on the demonstration Thursday that Sony is partnering with RealD.
But the march of famous personalities didn't stop there: Kaz Hirai, CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment of America, baseball hall of famer Reggie Jackson--Sony is providing all the tech in the new Yankee Stadium--Oprah health guru Dr. Mehmet Oz, and finally Sony Ericsson-sponsored Usher, who sang one song to close the speech.
Sony's hurting right now, and many of the tasks Stringer laid out would call for Sony to change some of its most ingrained policies. It remains to be seen if these "imperatives" will still be an imperative after the world economy eventually recovers.