Slices of Japanese business, politics and life
An old Saturday Night Live segment once included this joke when Frank Sinatra was still alive:
“‘Ol’ Blue Eyes’ is back in town, and sources report nobody’s interested and nobody cares.”
That line came back to me after Sony, once Japan’s “Big Blue”, announced Thursday its vision of an $11-billion 3D market by early 2013, with three-dimensional PlayStation 3s, TVs, Blu-ray Disc players, cameras, live broadcasting and — the historic staple — movies and theatres.
Photo credit: REUTERS/Rick Wilking
I attended Sony’s briefing that included a 2D video of its 3D world, plans for 3,000 projector installations by end-2010, a single-lens High-Frame-Rate movie camera (when previously it took two cameras to make three dimensions), and an end-to-end solution still involving glasses.
Nintendo still expects to make $4 billion this year and Sony to lose over $600 million, but last week may ultimately be remembered as a crossroads where each firm’s fortunes began to change directions, or at least when a 15-year battle for gaming supremacy again became competitive.
Electronics conglomerate Sony trimmed its overall loss forecast on Friday, while some of last quarter’s bleeding was attributed to what is now seen as its successful price cut for the PlayStation 3 console, jolting the PS3 ahead of its Kyoto-based rival’s Wii in monthly sales.
Sony unveiled its leaner, meaner and — most importantly – cheaper PlayStation 3 in Tokyo Wednesday after a gamescon debut in Europe, but it offered little beyond a quick glimpse of what it hopes will stop the money-bleeding of arguably one of the most troubled products in its history.
After rising to industry dominance with its PlayStation and PS2 consoles, Sony’s gaming unit grew to account for 60 percent of the conglomerate’s profit, and its chief, Ken Kutaragi, was seen as a possible future CEO.
Some of my friends have bought Blu-ray disc players recently and brag about the breath-taking picture quality on their big flat TVs. Sales of Blu-ray recorders have outstripped those of regular DVD recorders by almost seven to three in recent months in Japan, research firm GfK Marketing Services Japan says.
But some Blu-ray users complain that movie rental stores don’t have much of a selection in the format. Tsutaya, Japan’s largest movie rental chain and a unit of Culture Convenience Club, says some of its stores carry as many as 300 Blu-ray titles, but that’s barely a fraction of the average 40,000 DVD titles available.
After a long spell in the gilded kingdom of record profits, Nintendo, the 120-year-old creator of Mario and Zelda, is again having to dodge barrels such as a high yen and consumers’ eternal quest for new kit. Its returns are slowing, though they are still to be envied with the firm forecasting $5 billion for the year ahead.
Last month company President Satoru Iwata told Tokyo journalists that Japan’s enthusiasm for its Wii was waning mildly. But he promised more software titles and said a new console would come when design wizard Shigeru Miyamoto ran out of ideas for the current hardware.
When a Welsh-born former TV journalist was appointed chairman and CEO of Sony Corp in 2005, he set out to destroy the factions dividing the electronics giant and uncover the synergies needed to grow.
Three and a half years later, Howard Stringer’s empire faces its biggest annual loss on record, slammed by a soaring yen, sliding demand, and restructuring costs.