Sony: we dropped the ball

It seems that in the last few years, the only people who didn’t realise that Sony’s MP3 strategy was D-U-M dumb were the bosses of Sony. Now, it seems, they’ve seen the light. Ken Kutaragi, president of Sony Computer Entertainment, told reporters that Sony blew it with their refusal to support MP3 and obsession with their own, proprietary, music format.

Sony’s problem was political: the hardware bods wanted to make MP3 players, because they’re all smart people; unfortunately, Sony’s entertainment divisions didn’t, because they’re paranoid. The entertainment divisions won, and everyone and their dog bought an iPod instead of a Sony device. Pre-iPod, Sony dominated the world of portable music; post-iPod, it’s drinking whisky in sleazy bars, boring the other barflys with tales of how it coulda been a contender.

So what’s Sony doing to strike back? Two acronyms: DRM and PSP. Entertainment firms won’t sell content if it doesn’t have the dreaded Digital Rights Management technology, and Sony has joined other consumer electronics firms to agree on a DRM standard that works on everything – a big improvement from the mess of incompatible DRM systems we have now, although if Microsoft and/or Apple aren’t involved then it’s questionable whether the new standard will ever get off the ground.

The second plank is the PSP, or PlayStation Portable. Sony sees the PSP as a platform not just for games, but for music and movies. The PSP has already sold the best part of 1 million units since going on sale in Japan last month, and is likely to do serious numbers in the US and Europe when it launches this spring – not least because it’ll cost the same as an iPod Mini. It’s worth noting that while Apple has shifted around 10 million iPods, sales of the PlayStation family are currently sitting at 175 million. If Sony’s plan works, the PSP is likely to be a serious player not just in games, but in music and movies too.