Stringer: Set Sales to Soar

Las Vegas— High-definition television is about to reach its tipping point.

Sales of HDTV sets this year will exceed those of conventional sets for the first time, Sony Corp. chairman and CEO Howard Stringer said on Jan. 5 at the start of the International Consumer Electronics Show here.

What does that mean for the average television viewer? Two of the most popular game shows — Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune — will be transmitted in high definition in the fall, he said. Both the answer-and-question show and the “hangman” derivative that stars Pat Sajak are owned by Sony Pictures Television.

Stringer, a former CBS television programming executive, said Sony also has reached an agreement with British Sky Broadcasting Corp., the satellite-television service owned by News Corp., to market high-definition television service in the United Kingdom. The marketing will co-promote Sky’s HD programming and Sony’s new line of Bravia flat-panel TV sets.

Consumers are likely to be offered discounts when they buy a Sony set and Sky’s service at the same time.

In the United States, Stringer said Bravia has given Sony a 30% share of the digital flat-panel TV set market, in four months’ time. The Bravia line was introduced in August, when Sony had a single-digit share, he said.

Stringer’s estimate that sales of high-definition sets will pass those of standard sets this year is in keeping with the rapid growth in sales of digital sets cited by the Consumer Electronics Association here.

CEA president Gary Shapiro said 12 million digital sets were sold in 2005. That was almost as many digital sets as had been sold in all previous years, combined, he said. The CEA projects that 18 million — or $23 billion worth — of digital TVs will be sold worldwide this year. Of those, 85% will be high-definition sets, the CEA estimates.