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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Sony Electronics' new social networking site.

Sony's Social Networking Site Needs a Name
The consumer electronics giant tests an interactive community site in connection with CES.

Sony has come up with a novel way to get users involved in its new community Web site -- help name it.

In conjunction with this week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Sony Electronics unveiled a beta testing version of a new interactive community site. The as-yet-unnamed site will include Sony company blogs, videos, photos and polls, as well as profiles of its users.

The company also said its new site would tie into its existing social networking site and forum, the Backstage 101, and the ratings and reviews on its retail site,

One immediate test of the site's popularity and usefulness will be the CES tie-in. Sony said the site will include information on the latest product announcements and show activity as well as interaction with its chief blogger and senior vice president of corporate communications, Rick Clancy and fans of the company's products.

Sony's moves come at a time of exploding interest in social networks both for internal and customer-facing uses.

"The Sony blog has enabled us to speak frankly and directly with our customer base and the public at large, not only in the U.S. but around the world," Clancy said in a statement. "Now we're looking to make the blog the cornerstone of a more interactive community site that provides people with the opportunity to talk to us and to each other about their opinions, experiences and observations with respect to Sony, our products, the industry and even our competitors."

"Sony No Baloney"
A Sony spokesperson said the electronics giant plans to add more company bloggers, avatars and other features. Users will be able to add profiles and photos by the end of the month, but the company made the beta launch a priority for CES. "We want to get feedback from users and also we thought it would be great to reach out to users for suggestions on a name for the site," she said.

Clancy said he already has some ideas. "My favorite so far is Sony No Baloney,'
which I used for the very first blog post, but some of my colleagues disagree," he said. "Hopefully, the community members themselves can suggest something more clever."

In addition to its own community site, Sony Electronics has also launched a channel on YouTube, a Twitter account and a page on Flickr, it said.

CES - Tech Evolution, Not Revolution

Source : InformationWeek
The biggest tech industry event of the year-Consumer Electronics Show, is expected to highlight evolutionary products that are unlikely to shake up the market but will showcase advancements in digital TVs, home networking, and mobile computing.

Indeed, the glitzy Las Vegas show is smaller than last year's, as vendors have scaled back in anticipation of fewer attendees in the current economic recession. In addition, CES has less star power, with Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) founder Bill Gates no longer giving the opening night keynote, a job he filled for the last 11 years.
Instead, Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer on Wednesday night will address attendees

While unlikely to be jaw-dropping, the new products hawked at the show will cover many of the most exciting markets, including smartphones, third-generation netbooks, slimmer and better-looking digital TVs, touch-screen laptops, and gaming.

Lenovo, for example, is hoping to stand out from the crowd of computer makers with a slim, all-in-one desktop and a dual-screen laptop, one of several mobile PCs the vendor plans to unveil. The ThinkPad W700ds has a 17-inch LCD screen and a 10.6-inch display that slides out to the right, according to the Reuters news agency. The second screen is meant to mimic work environments where dual screens are used. The 11-pound system will sell for $3,600.

Lenovo also plans to showcase its thinnest and lightest 16-inch laptop, the IdeaPad Y650. The system weighs 5.6 pounds, measures an inch at its thinnest point, and will cost $1,199 when it's available in March, the company said.

The all-in-one IdeaCentre A600, which measures one inch at its thinnest point, is among the slimmest desktops of its kind, according to the world's fourth-largest PC maker. The desktop has a 21.5-inch frameless screen, a number of entertainment-focused features, an Intel Core 2 dual-core processor, and up to 4 GB of memory and a 1-TB hard drive. Scheduled to be available in April, the system is expected to sell for a starting price of $999.

Hewlett-Packard also plans to showcase thin and light notebooks, including the Mini 2140, which features an all-aluminum case and a 10-inch light-emitting diode screen. The system weighs 2.6 pounds, includes an 80-GB hard drive, and is powered by an Intel Atom processor. The netbook is scheduled to be available this month and sell for a starting price of $499.

HP also plans to highlight an ultraportable laptop, the Pavilion dv2, that features Advanced Micro Devices' new mobile platform for ultrathin notebooks. The AMD technology, comprising its Athlon Neo microprocessor and an ATI Radeon 3000 series graphic processor, will be launched at the show. The Pavilion dv2 sports a 12-inch display, weighs 3.8 pounds, and is less than an inch thick. Pricing and availability weren't disclosed.

HP also plans to show off two gaming desktops, the Firebird 802 and 803. Both run on Intel Core 2 quad-core processors and will be available this month. Pricing was not disclosed, but the high-end machines, which have liquid-cooling systems, are sure to be expensive.

For home networking and backup, HP plans to showcase its Windows-based MediaSmart Server, which will be available next month. The home server has up to 1.5 TB of storage, which provides a central repository for backing up and accessing digital music, videos, photos, and other files from multiple computers on a home network. The server, which starts at $599, supports Windows PCs and Apple Macs running Leopard using Apple Time Machine software.

One area of focus at CES will be in connecting the Internet to the home television, a much better venue for watching online video than a PC. Intel and Yahoo are expected to discuss their continuing efforts. Yahoo offers mini-applications that draw content from the Web using the TV's remote control. Companies that will showcase the TV Widgets at CES include Samsung Electronics, which plans to include the applications in select models of its flat-panel high-definition TVs shipping this year.
Other companies showcasing Web-to-TV products include LG Electronics, which plans to make Netflix's online movies available in broadband-connected sets that will be available this spring. The company also plans to show off Blu-ray disc players that can access YouTube videos and movies on CinemaNow. Those products are also set to ship in the first half of this year.

Vendors in general are expected to feature slimmer and bigger TVs using organic light-emitting diode screens, which Sony and Samsung showcased last year. OLED displays provide more vivid colors and overall better picture quality than LCD screens, but are also considerably more expensive. The technology also makes it possible to create thinner TVs.

Cisco is rumored to be planning on giving a peek at a multiroom wireless music system, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Cisco, however, will not have a booth at the show. Other vendors staging media events for new products, but have opted out of the showroom included Sanyo and Philips Electronics.

Another likely focus at CES is 3-D technology that brings the special effect to the home TV. Hollywood movie studios are driving 3-D technology, which makes it possible to have objects and characters appear to jump off the screen. Walt Disney Pictures released its Bolt animated film late last year in 3-D, and DreamWorks is among the studios planning such movies this year.

Companies planning to highlight 3-D technology at CES include Nvidia, which will be showing off a 3-D gaming technology called GeForce 3D Vision. The company is also partnering with companies like Mitsubishi, Samsung, and Viewsonic, which are planning to bring 3-D technology to the TV and are likely to have some surprises for CES.

Along with the usual keynotes from tech bigwigs, vendors will be using celebrities to lure customers to events. Sports stars scheduled to make appearances include Ryan Therlot of the Chicago Cubs, superstar Hanley Ramirez of the Florida Marlins, Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain, and Oakland A's slugger Matt Holiday. Singer and actress Diana Ross is scheduled to perform an invitation-only concert.

Scheduled keynote speakers include Howard Stringer, chairman and chief executive of Sony; Alan Mulally, president and CEO of Ford; Craig Barrett, chairman of Intel; and John Chambers, chairman and chief executive of Cisco.

Economic downwards can spark innovation

The bad economy hasn't put that much of a crimp on the show, however, which organizers believe will bring about 130,000 visitors to Las Vegas, down from about 140,000 who came last year, CES officials said. But the trade show is among the livelier events in this party town, which appears fairly quiet, judging by the number of mostly empty gambling casinos.

But CES officials put a good face on matters during a presentation to reporters yesterday. The long-term trend in the U.S., going back to the 1960s, shows that consumers are continuing to spend more of their money on technology products such as cell phones, TVs and laptops as a percentage of their total spending on durable goods, they said.

Last year, 17% of total consumer spending on durable goods, which includes washing machines and automobiles, went to electronics, up from the single digits in the 1970s, said Shawn DuBravac, an economist for the Consumer Electronics Association in Arlington, Va., the group sponsoring CES.

"Consumer electronics [has become] a necessity, not a luxury," added Steven Loenig, CEA's director of industry analysis.

DuBravac was realistic about the dreary economic outlook for 2009, but noted that consumer technology spending will fare better than other segments of the economy. "2009 will remain a very bad year," he said, and estimated that the current recession started in December 2007 and should last through June 2009. "In 2010, we start to get back on track," he said.

Still, periods of economic downturn can help spur innovation, DuBravac noted, pointing out how the founders of Google Inc. bought surplus servers off the backs of trucks after the Internet bubble burst in 2001. In technology fields, the newly unemployed "can be the ones who get the new ideas" and put them into practical technologies. "We could see tremendous innovation in the next five years," he said.

While the recession will have an impact on electronics and audio products sold in cars and digital TVs sold for homes, smart phones will continue to be a strong product segment, DuBravac and Loenig said. Netbooks, which emerged in 2007, hit 10 million units sold in 2008, and will mushroom to 18 million in 2009, they said.

Of all consumer electronics purchased, cell phones, including smart phones, are the biggest sellers, and had about $23 billion in sales in 2008, CES officials said. In the U.S., about 124 million units should ship this year, DuBravac said, an increase of 2.6% over 2008.

Cell phones and smart phones are devices that bring together all the innovations of electronics technology, because of users' desire to work or play anywhere, said Tim Herbert, a global analyst for CEA. He estimated that cell phones represented about 27% of the worldwide consumer electronics market in 2008, while laptops were 11% of the total.

Mobile phones innovations include provisions for connections to faster networks with a range of applications, but also innovations for user needs. As one example, Koenig noted that LG Electronics will be announcing a wristwatch phone at CES. (LG confirmed the device would be shown after the show opens.)

Globally, consumer electronics products should result in total retail sales of $724 billion in 2009, up from $694 billion in 2008, Herbert said. About 2.5 billion electronics products were sold in 2008, he added.
Savior For Traditional TV Companies
The Consumer Electronics Show can only do so much for traditional TV/entertainment content players looking to extend their businesses. In the next few days, at the CES annual get-together, maybe we'll find out how much.

One end of the TV spectrum -- the home video business -- isn't complaining too much, as 2008 looks to be down "just" some 3% to 4% from 2007's $15.38 billion in sales. Yet those fancy new Blu-ray units and discs aren't enough to compensate for the downturn of the standard definition DVD business.

Compared to numbers for other TV-related businesses, all these declines aren't all that bad -- not when there are "double digit percentage" declines in network TV viewership, in local advertising TV sales, and in most media companies' stock prices.

For a couple of years now -- ever since Disney/ABC made that historic iTunes deal -- CES has been seen as a savior for some TV companies looking for new distribution streams of revenue. But this year the number of media and entertainment content companies taking floor space has been stagnant, if not in decline. NBC Universal, Discovery Networks, Sony Entertainment, and Comcast's G4 Network will have a presence at the event.

The CES poster child has been Sony Entertainment -- one of those perfectly positioned TV producer/consumer device companies -- which now seems to be having a rough go of it, according to reports. Recently, the Times of London suggested Sony will undergo a massive restructuring soon -- some $1.1 billion in cuts, and 16,000 jobs.

Who can blame the company if this happens? Sony has been hit squarely like any other consumer products company -- with consumers pulling back on new high-end consumer media products, such as Sony PlayStation 3 game console and Bravia flat screen TVs.

So, in retrospect, those home video executives are feeling pretty good, in these economically troubled times, with comments like "down is the new flat" or "flat is the new up."

What, then, should we make of media businesses that gained in 2008 -- like Netflix or Marvel Entertainment, both of whose stock prices grew? Is "up' the new "hit," the new "Idol," the new Google"? Or is the new "up," the new poster child looking for eventual trouble, just like everyone else?

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