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Sir Howard Stringer in the Land of the Rising Sun

Howardstringer_1The surprise announcement of Sir Howard Stringer as new Sony CEO will be an interesting test for a man who speaks no Japanese. However,I believe his understanding of the media business will enable him to unlock the value within Sony in a way that his predecessor Nobuyuki Idei (visionary behind the CD and DVD) and challenger Ken Kutaragi (creator of the PlayStation) could not.

I believe Sir Howard Stringer beat Kutaragi because even for a gaijin Stringer understood the deep web of relationships that has always been a part of the Sony culture. In some ways this announcement is no more astonishing than the appointment of Idei, who was the first Sony CEO to have both studied and worked abroad, having started Sony France.

Sony's corporate focus has been on building and leveraging discrete platforms, marked by successes like the Walkman, PlayStation and DVDs on one hand, and failures like BetaMax on the other. Sony's CEO succession  has played out like the PC versus TV wars...they've made for reliable media fodder but were ultimately asking the wrong question.

I think Sir Howard will leverage his vision of ancillary revenues to consolidate Sony's intellectual property rights. Sony is part of the MPEG LA group that is at the heart of the iPod business model. Rather than try to overbuild these patents through new proprietary formats (which is what Sony did with the introduction of the Memory Stick), Sony will instead look at making existing franchises more efficient in creating new ancillary markets, such as ringtones.

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