Sony embracing an open platform like Google TV for its home electronics business is a pretty big change for the company.
And Sony's Chairman and CEO tends to agree. "It seems very un-Sony-like," Sir Howard Stringer allowed at a press conference Thursday afternoon following the introduction of Sony Internet TV, the first TV with the Google TV platform. Sony's TV will run Android OS and use Google search to allow users to browse and watch programming from the Web and from a channel service provider.
In the official announcement Thursday was this quote from Google CEO Eric Schmidt: "We believe that open systems lead to more innovation, value, and choice for consumers, which is why we are so proud to work with Sony to bring the power of the Android platform to more consumers around the world."
Longtime followers of Sony would likely do a double-take when they see the words "open" and "Sony" linked together. But it could be the beginning of something new for the Japanese electronics giant. It's actually made baby steps lately toward being more open, finally agreeing to sell gadgets compatible with SD cards instead of Sony's proprietary Memory Stick format, and Sony Ericsson delivering an Android phone. Now it's embracing the concept of open with TVs.
And that's good for Sony, because the company needs something to change with TVs. They've fallen behind to third in TV sales overall, and in general have had trouble getting all of the company's moving parts from all over the world to work together to match up the company's trove of content with its significant brand recognition. But this Google TV could be a sign of the better things to come.
Not that we know everything about what the Sony Internet TV will entail yet. It's clearly in the earlier stages. We do know Sony Internet TV is scheduled to hit Best Buy and Sony Style stores this fall, but Sony said it still doesn't know how it will price it yet. Though Senior Vice President for Home Entertainment Bob Ishida said there will definitely be a premium over a regular TV. "Of course it's more (expensive)," he said. "They're more powerful."
There will also be a remote included with the TV--Google said a remote and a keyboard are necessary to use its platform--though Sony didn't give details about it.
The obvious question is, since TVs these days don't vary that much by brand, how will Sony differentiate itself since soon all of its competitors will also be able to use Google's free Google TV platform? Stringer said that since Sony has been working with Google on this from the get-go, they have the advantage of time. "We have a six-month lead," he said. Plus, he said, Sony has its own content that its competitors won't necessarily have.
Sony also now has the problem of three different strategies on Internet-connected home entertainment devices.
The company already has the PlayStation Network, also known as Qriocity, that lets PlayStation 3 owners browse and download entertainment content to their game consoles. And Sony's Web-connected HDTVs also come with something called Sony Bravia Internet Video Link, in which TV owners can access online content directly through their TV sets.
Those services will remain on the respective devices, said Mike Abary, the head of TV for Sony in the United States. PSN will continue to be available on PS3s and Bravia content on Bravia TVs. But Sony's Internet TV will aggregate content from all three sources (PSN, Bravia, Google TV) in the same user interface. Whether that will be confusing for consumers will depend exactly on what that integration looks like, something we likely won't know for a while.
But Sony's not alone. Its closest competitors will face similar challenges if they choose to embrace Google TV because they also have their own Internet-on-TV strategies. Panasonic has its own service called VieraCast, which brings Internet content from the Web directly to its Viera HDTVs. Companies like Samsung and Vizio use Yahoo Widgets, which is another kind of service that overlays TV content with Internet widgets from content providers like YouTube, Netflix, Flickr, Pandora, and others.
Stringer, for his part, is confident that the head start his company has will be a significant advantage for them. "Others will be behind us, so the race is on in Internet television."