Late last year we had the opportunity to talk to Rick Clancy, Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications of Sony, and ask him several questions you guys submitted to us via our “What Do You Want To Ask Sony?” post. The dialog lasted a while, and we are very gracious for Sony and the Corporate Communications team for giving this opportunity to sit down and talk to them. Read on for the interview, or read part 2 when you’re done.
Sony Insider [Christopher]: Thanks for giving us the opportunity to interview you, Rick. I know that you’re very busy. One of the first questions we received (from user Jim Esco) “I would like to ask how Sonyinsider.com could use its incredible fan base to help better Sony products and services. They must have an idea how you could help benefit one another.”
Rick Clancy: That’s an interesting question. On one level, for starters, we’ve begun this dialog with you. I think that’s where you have to begin, with some constructive communication. My aim would be to develop a mutually beneficial relationship; one that allows for Sony Insider to maintain its independence, and credibility. From the Sony Electronics point of view, it does give us an opportunity to tap into the insights and perspectives and opinions and suggestions that Sony Insider and its following would like to share with us. Not only share mechanically, but we’re also open to suggestions in terms of building upon this dialog and finding ways to have more interactions. As we go here, we’ll be opening more windows of discussion for Sony Insider and for the public in general. We’ve started some things recently like ratings and reviews, and Frontline. Which are two vehicles that allow consumers and the public to offer suggestions and opinion and criticism, which obviously we take it on the Sony blog which we host as well. We’re very open to getting the dialog going and building upon the relationship that we’ve started in the past year.
Sony Insider [Christopher]: We certainly appreciate the relationship – it’s definitely been an exciting experience.
Sony Insider [Christopher]: When you guys announced a new Sony community site on your blog, did you consider an overlap in format, style and necessity of this new site and Sony Insider?
Rick Clancy: First of all, I give you and Stan a lot of credit with what you’ve done and what you’ve built with Sony Insider. I think one of the things that make it so special is your unique perspective as someone that is tracking and following Sony from all sorts of perspectives and from all corners of the world. That level of independence and separation is very important. There is no way we could be duplicative in that regard – the orientation is very different. I have to be totally transparent in terms of who I am and who I represent. On the other hand, I try to put as much personal perspective into this as I can and not just report or reprint press releases or advertisement. I am a Sony manager, and I have been with Sony for 18 years and that’s part of who I am and who I represent. I certainly think there is a place for both our initiatives and I welcome more, both from inside of Sony (in terms of my fellow Sony employees), but also from the outside of Sony.
Sony Insider [Christopher]: At first It took me back (making a new Community blog), but then I realized some of the things we cover you may never be able to touch upon, like leaks or what have you, or some of the more negative things (which we try not to feature all the time, but do to make sure there is no sense of bias.)
Rick Clancy: No, no, I think that’s reasonable. On the other hand, my focus is on the US electronics business and Sony. I comment on other things beyond that, but I do that in a way that relates back to the Electronics business almost all the time since that’s who I represent and who I am and where most of my knowledge lies. Sony Insider certainly has windows of opportunity that revolves around the globe, which is another dimension you bring.
Sony Insider [Christopher]: When we saw that community posting, we were a bit jealous. A project like that would seem like a dream job to Stan and I.
Rick Clancy: Hopefully if we get into the mode of hiring rather than cutting back, then we will see more of those jobs around. With the community site, Jen is very involved with this as well. We are looking to have our blog be the cornerstone of the community so it’s the first thing you see. We will have interesting neighborhoods or all sorts of specialized communities, whether it’s about the environment, bio, engineering, or customer service. We want to bring in some of these existing sites that are out there and have them all become part of this broader community. That is the vision.
The folks at Playstation in some ways have it a little easier, because they can be a bit more focused than I am. The passion of gamers is very singular, and very intense.
Sony Insider [Christopher]: Are you guys bringing, or having anyone from the Playstation blog bring their influence on your new Electronics blog?
Rick Clancy: We are certainly consulting with them –
Sony Insider [Christopher]: ..they seem so successful..
Rick Clancy: We’ve actually talked to some of the others they’ve worked with – like I said we’ve taken a different approach because of the diversity and breadth of Sony I represent versus the singular Playstation focus that these people have. I am in frequent contact with my counterpart there, and I know that Jen and Marcy Cohn are also working on the site with me – they have talked to their team quite a bit.
Sony Insider [Christopher]: Let’s shift – I don’t want to dabble too long. Another question we received – I cannot emphasize how popular it was as many people asked about Sonicstage and ATRAC – was surprising because the market has shifted away from such; Sony’s focus has shifted away from that because of cost-cutting measures, and popularity of course.
“Why the lack of support for SonicStage & ATRAC outside Japan these days.” (from bogon07)
The Minidisc format and ATRAC, while efficient in their time, had difficulty in the digital age because of high capacity flash Walkman, but not only that – the iPod, Samsung players, Creative and so on. What a lot of consumers noticed, and left a bad taste in their mouths when Sony shifted away from Minidisc, and shifted away from Sonicstage after the Connect store and how that went. Consumers noticed quickly that there wasn’t much legacy or lack of support for Sonicstage and ATRAC outside of Japan.
Rick Clancy: By and large, that came down to market decision. In Japan, the Walkman built around that ATRAC compression scheme has done reasonably well. There’s no reason not to continue there. In many regards, it’s a better system than many out there, at least from a pure audio quality standpoint. After a couple of years of working it here in the US, Canada, and Europe – especially in the US – it was very apparent what the market demanded, except for one company, was an open platform and providing a service a consumer could utilize regardless whether they subscribed to Napster, or Rhapsody, or what have you. It really came down to a market decision, and it was very apparent that the US market was not receptive to another closed music service.
Sony Insider [Christopher]: I can almost sense a hint of if ATRAC was more open when it debuted that it could have fared better..
Rick Clancy: Perhaps, perhaps at least in this market place.
Sony Insider [Christopher]: Are you guys looking to apply any of those technologies in further products, such as a resurgence of ATRAC in any way?
Rick Clancy: I’m not aware of any initiative in that regard.
Sony Insider [Christopher]: ..it pretty much seems to be faded out..
Rick Clancy: Well, you can never say never about something like that, but I’m not aware of anything. Obviously, it was very fundamental to our Minidisc initiatives, and later with the Network Walkman. At this point in time we’re not aware of any initiatives where it’s central to the development.
Sony Insider [Christopher]: That is a shame. I can also understand, given the reasons that you described. There was so much development that went into that codec, software and everything else – I can see how as time progressed you guys said it’s time to pack up and move on.
Sony Insider [Christopher]: The next question we received is from pudsey456. “The hi-end Vaio products have always commanded a premium for their engineering and material, but the new products for 2008 (the Z and the TT in particular) are pushing the price envelope even higher. Personally I’m a fan who sees value in these laptops, but I have never ever purchased a new Vaio, because the pricing is really out of my reach. I’m hoping Sony wouldn’t just keep pushing for the $5000 mark with the Vaios. I don’t want to say the N word (okay, netbook) but I think netbook or not, Sony can do a lot more at the lower end than the current CS. What could we expect to see at the lower end of the Vaio range?”
Sony Insider [Stan]: I could speak to that as well. The pricing of the new Vaio’s seems to be more expensive these days and not a lot of people can afford it. Of course, they are marketed to the executive, like the TT series, and not many students can afford it.
Rick Clancy: There are a few levels to address this question, let’s step back for a minute. With the development of Vaio and its evolution over the years from its introduction in 1996, the product has always been focused to a market that appreciates something special that Sony can bring to PC’s in terms of functionality – some cases software, many cases design. We have not aggressively pursued the low-end market that the major companies in the PC area like HP and Dell for example go after. Certainly some of the most amazing Vaio products include some of the ones mentioned here in this question. I love the TT, for example, and have its predecessor TZ myself that is terrific. My desktop here at home is the LT, a very cool all in one that others have tried to emulate in some way. That said, we have taken some initiatives in the more popular price ranges that we have in the past and there will be more to come.
One of the things about Vaio and Sony is that we’ve managed it in a reasonably successful manner. It’s very difficult for companies to make a profit on PC’s, especially on the hardware anyways. The approach Sony has taken is to slowly address the market share, but really focus on products, market segments that appreciate what Sony can do with the Vaio. You will see some exciting Vaio products that not only address the business and work style needs, but entertainment and lifestyle. We’ve had a lot of fun with the design things, like Graphic Splash notebooks. We also did the Bond 007 notebooks, in conjunction with the latest release of Quantum of Solace. Our Vaio group is willing to take risks and try new things, so you never know. Even our “U” series has been interesting.
It’s interesting to see how others have followed us; it’s common to see a pink notebook from Dell, for example. We’ve tried some things that others have picked up on, like the engraving as another example.
Sony Insider [Christopher]: I find it very interesting that the struggling worldwide economy, the interest seems to be with this revelation of the Netbook – a low cost machine capable of satisfying the needs of most consumers, like Internet and e-mail. It will be very interesting to see how Sony adjusts to not only the demand for a low price, but also quality and expected features.
Rick Clancy: We always try and do something above and beyond what is currently available, and putting a different twist on them.
Sony Insider [Christopher]: The TT is proof of that.
Sony Insider [Christopher]: The next question we received from Houman is about creating not necessarily a music service, but a universal media service for people to access Sony media. As I use the Playstation Video Store I can see how quickly that’s matured and become a serious contender alongside larger services that have had longer time to saturate the market. When I see a model like the Playstation Video store, I wonder why something like this isn’t called the Sony Video store, and not available on all their networked products. The question – “Sony should use its competitive advantages. I am really surprised while Sony has such a great music and movie sections, why it does not combine them and launch a “Connect” thing again. I believe having some great products in MP3 & MP4 players, E-Book readers, Mobile phones (Sony Ericsson), laptops, and game consoles (PS3, PS2, PSP) range, as well as the second music archive in the world and also the first movie archive in the world (MGM is considered) make a great opportunity for Sony to combine and merge its parallel websites (Playnow, Playnow arena, Connect, myplay and…) and services in to the one most powerful website providing contents such as Music (for MP3 and MP3 players, mobile phones, Game consoles and …), Movie , E-books, Games (for game consoles, PCs and mobile phones.) and … in one place. It will boost the sale of electronics as well as music and movie providers and presents Sony an unreachable position in the market.”
Rick Clancy: Well, directionally, as Sir Howard said, I believe that in a relatively short period of time – I don’t have it with me right now, but I think in 2010, 2011, we are looking to have 90% of our product categories in a position where they can be network enabled, or wireless. Part of that vision also includes a platform for content services, and distributing content across a variety of our products, and actually a linchpin of that begins with the Playstation network, which largely provides games through a Playstation 3 and therefore to other devices. A vision for the Playstation Network is that it will be something that is platform, and harmonious with a variety of consumer devices.
More to come in part two of this interview – stay tuned!