January 8, 2013 6:01 pm

Sony vows comeback with TV

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As Samsung reported record profits again on Tuesday, driven by its smartphone business, its Japanese rival Sony was still talking comebacks and turnrounds at the International CES Consumer Electronics Show.

Sony unveiled a new flagship smartphone, the Xperia Z, with an oversized 5in screen, and tried to outdo Samsung with a prototype TV that combined technologies – UltraHD and OLED – shown in separate TVs by the Korean company.

However the demonstration failed embarrassingly, with the TV showing just a blue screen with error messages. The main message on screen at the presentation was “Coming back. One wow at a time”.

Kaz Hirai, chief executive, told reporters afterwards that this meant winning back consumers with great products, one after another.

“It’s one product at a time [in order] to have people understand Sony is really starting to get its mojo back,” he said.

Sony has reported seven consecutive quarterly losses and Moody’s cut its debt rating to one notch above junk status in November.

Since taking over from Sir Howard Stringer in April, Mr Hirai has had to balance putting the “wow” back into Sony’s products, making cuts and accelerating the restructuring of his predecessor.

Sony’s chief told reporters the company was ahead of schedule in returning its TV business to profitability in the next year.

It had decided to lose market share on purpose as it had been selling TVs at a loss, but Mr Hirai said the company would seek to increase it again “once we get our ducks in a row”.

He confirmed reports that Sony was looking at selling its battery business.“It is one of the businesses we are looking at . . . the discussion really extends to any businesses that aren’t really additive to the core business, turning around the TV business, getting into emerging markets or getting into medical [devices],” he said.

The CES presentation was shorn of the glamour of Sir Howard’s, who had always featured stars from Sony’s movie and music divisions in the past.

But Mr Hirai denied rumours that these businesses were on the block.

“I have said so many times that those properties are not for sale, and I know that a lot of people do the proverbial, “If Sony were to put it on sale, we would be interested”, but that’s different from Sony putting it on sale,” he said.

Sony appears to be attaching as much importance to UltraHD – or 4K as it prefers to call the higher-resolution technology – as it did to 3D under Sir Howard to boost its business. But analysts suggest it could fizzle in the same way. They are sceptical that prices can come down quickly enough and that enough content can be made available to attract consumers.

Sony announced a 4K download service would be launched in the summer in the US to provide more content to buyers of its $25,000 84in UltraHD set. It said two models with smaller-sized screens would be launched at more affordable prices.

“It’s a gradual process, and I don’t think this is an overnight thing; 3D still is in its developmental stage where we have a lot of content creators who provide content in 3D, and I think it’s the same with 4K,” said Mr Hirai.

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