Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Sony's Consumer Electronics Mojo


I had previously referenced Sony's loss of MOJO. What had been the #1 TV brand is no longer #1 and no longer makes its own screens. The follow on -Man franchise(Walk-man, Watch-man) has been replaced by the i- franchise (iPod, iPhone, etc). Even the austere but elegant trade dress Sony had been known for has been co-opted. Now we hear that Sony is exiting the video business and may exit TV as well. In the earlier article, I attributed much of the loss of Sony's Mojo to its abandonment of the Trinitron sub-brand. Sony was both an excellent marketing company and excellent technology company as well. The decision to abandon Trinitron when the technology moved away from CRTs to flat panels was accurate in a technology sense. However, as precious few consumers had any idea what a Trinitron technically was, abandonment of the trade name put a needless burden on the business to rebuild the Mojo that was in that name vs. the Sony name.

Early in the life of the TV, there were over 100 makers of CRT tubes for TV, with even more TV set brands. By the mid 1990's this had consolidated to 6 principal global makers, still with more brands than there were set makers. However, the top 3 brands (Sony, RCA, and Zenith) did mostly produce their own tubes and were the technology leaders in addition to having the top brands. Although there are various stories about what happened to RCA, the entire company was purchased by GE and the RCA brand name was passed around to various entities that marketed mediocre goods, trashing the name. Zenith fell to increasing foreign competition and fundamentally lacked the capital to make the transition to flat panels; shortly before the flat panel era, it was sold. Sony has lasted the longest of the old names, and Son's deep understanding of the consumer (focusing as much on sound as on visual quality) has kept it in the game until now. With any technology business, remaining on top is always difficult. Remaining on top through fundamental technology and market transitions much more difficult still. One has to wonder if Sony had promoted a "Trinitron LCD" if they would still be #1.

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