Earlier today, we sat down with Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai and a small group of journalists to catch up with Sony announcements at CES 2014. Many questions were asked, and Mr. Hirai answered as candidly as he could without announcing anything new. Here are the highlights:
4K adoption & content availability
This is the obvious question that most people want to know: basically “if one buys a 4K TV, what content is available, and how fast will new content arrive? Kazuo Hirai acknowledged that these things “don’t happen overnight” and pointed out that it took years between the apparition of HD (1080p) and its large-scale adoption. We’re basically at the beginning of 4K and it will also take years before it becomes a mass-market.
He didn’t get into details, but my interpretation of this is that mass-market is when 50” 4K TVs cost around $2000 and $2500. I personally believe that 4K will come much quicker than HD did because the world has gone digital and content is already being produced in 4K. In fact, if you look at the upcoming content, most big budget movies will be available in 4K fairly quickly. Now, if each of us will have his/her own appreciation of “when” 4K availability will be good enough, but from the looks of it, this should not be a huge problem in the next 18 months. I anything, the content will come before prices will reach a point where 4K becomes a mass-market product.
Ironically, there were also questions about how Sony would deal with lower prices when 4K gets commoditized like HD is today. The context is that although Sony routinely offers premium products (see Sony’s latest HDTV and 4K TVs at CES 2014), the reality suggests that consumers care more about a quality/price ration rather than “absolute quality”. Note that in the Japanese market, absolute quality is crucial, but that’s not always the case elsewhere. To that, Kazuo Hirai gave an interesting and pragmatic answer: he knows that sooner or later, even 4K will become commodity and that pricing will be crucial. This is unavoidable he said, but his solution to this is to make Sony Electronics as efficient as possible so that it can withstand changes in the business environment.
TV shows and movies service
Since Sony mentioned that it has the goal of providing live TV, TV shows, Movies and a cloud-DVR service under the same roof, the question on many lips was: is Sony going to war with cable and satellites providers? Kazuo Hirai answered that Sony’s priority was to provide a “convenient” service to its customers, and that Sony was talking to cable companies about this. Although there may be some overlap, Mr. Hirai doesn’t think that those companies would be talking to Sony if they felt that this was going to become a serious competitive situation. Kazuo Hirai mentioned that there are tens of millions of Sony users that could access and benefit from such a service, and this implies that whoever partners with Sony would have much to gain.
Since Sony is doing well with its Smart Watch 2, has demonstrated Smart Eyeglass and released Core and a Tennis sensor, I asked Kazuo Hirai directly if Sony had a grand vision for wearable tech, or if the company was pursuing several promising ideas to see which one would succeed. He was very candid in saying that there is no certainty as for what type of usage will compel users to buy (and wear!) such devices. He also eluded to the fact that this is a very interesting market because customers would probably only get one smart watch or one smart glass (supposedly because they are expensive). He said that in some ways, it’s like the “real estate” market: for example once a company grabs a wearable tech body location, like a wrist or a head, there is effectively no room left for the competition – at least for a while. If that is true, expect different wearable technology competitor to make a big “land-grabbing” push.