Sony Co-opetition?

Today’s dose of “things to keep you awake” comes in the form of Sony’s purported plan to compete with cable by creating a bundle of á là carte channels delivered via the Internet.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Sony has talked to NBCUniversal, Discovery Communications and News Corporation (presumably for Fox channels) to line up a roster of content that would be broadband-delivered to Sony PlayStation3 game consoles and other devices.

The idea is hardly new, and similar services already exist on a small scale, such as Sony’s own movie channel which is offered for a fee to authenticated customers of DirecTV and Dish.  The Journal cites unnamed sources who claim that Sony is focused on packaging “smaller niche channels” that cannot reach carriage agreements with MSOs. Again, that’s a road that Akimbo, NeuLion and many others have traveled, albeit those ventures were far less well-capitalized than Sony.

What makes it more interesting now is Sony’s multi-edged relationship with the cable industry. Start with the TV-manufacturing side of Sony, which announced nearly a year ago that it would deliver shows directly to Time Warner Cable customers who owned Sony ‘net-connected Bravia HDTV sets. That was one of the first authenticated “TV Everywhere” deals, of which we’ve heard precious little since. (At a CableNet exhibit during NCTA’s Cable Show in June, I heard plenty about cable-to-TV-set compatibility problems, but that’s another story.)

Sony is pushing its own content to the PS3’s broadband connector, not just movies from its Hollywood arm. There’s “Crackle”, a repository of old movies, TV shows, plus special-interest and original videos; Sony has interests in other online systems, too.

Equally significant, any new Sony over-the-top move is likely to surface at about the same time as Blockbuster ratchets up its streaming movie plans. The $10 per month “Blockbuster Movie Pass,” with limited availability since September, is ready to expand beyond customers of Dish, which acquired Blockbuster earlier this year. I’m looking for some major integration of Dish subsidiaries Blockbuster and Sling Media (itself a maker of Internet set-top equipment) to appear at January’s Consumer Electronics Show. Sony will also be on hand at CES, surely spotlighting its ‘net-connected TV sets and PS3.

Which brings us back to the role of Sony as a co-opetitor to the cable industry. When the co-opetition concept surfaced during the Internet bubble, there were great dreams of all ships rising as supply-chain collaborators sometimes became competitors. We never saw a good example of that arrangement.

I doubt that we’ll see one in this scenario. Nonetheless, it’s worth watching what Sony brings to the cord-cutting arena. With 18.1 million PS3 rug-top boxes in American homes, Sony might play a sizeable new role in a new “cord-swapping” process. But it would be all in the spirit of “friendly competition.”


Gary Arlen is president of Arlen Communications LLC in Bethesda, Md., and a long-time interactive TV enthusiast. Reach him at

Contributor Gary Arlen is known for his insights into the convergence of media, telecom, content and technology. Gary was founder/editor/publisher of Interactivity Report, TeleServices Report and other influential newsletters; he was the longtime “curmudgeon” columnist for Multichannel News as well as a regular contributor to AdMap, Washington Technology and Telecommunications Reports. He writes regularly about trends and media/marketing for the Consumer Technology Association's i3 magazine plus several blogs. Gary has taught media-focused courses on the adjunct faculties at George Mason University and American University and has guest-lectured at MIT, Harvard, UCLA, University of Southern California and Northwestern University and at countless media, marketing and technology industry events. As President of Arlen Communications LLC, he has provided analyses about the development of applications and services for entertainment, marketing and e-commerce.