Sony’s Sir Howard: GoogleTV ‘really is a very big deal’

Posted by Patrick Houston

Sony's Chairman reveals why Google, Android, and the TV are kicking it old school.

Sony Corp. Chairman Sir Howard Stringer concluded a press conference about its forthcoming Android-based Internet TV yesterday with a widely quoted declaration: “This really is a very big deal.”  But it wasn’t until his 50-minute sit down with an exclusive group of a dozen journalists and analysts did he get down to explaining why.

With the planned fall debut of a standalone TV and a set-top-box-like device, the TV, Stringer said, “is no longer dumb.”  By bringing the Internet and, more importantly, a cornucopia apps to the TV, the same multimedia extravaganza that most people routinely enjoy alone on a PC or smartphone will finally – finally – make its way into the living room where they can enjoy it together.

What’s so special about an Sony-Android TV? “It’s who gets to experience it -- the whole family,” Stringer said.

These announcements often come with a ton of hype.  You won’t be blamed if you believe the normally understated British exec is making too much of too little. The Internet has been moving onto the TV for quite some time.  Sony itself has been making hay with its “internet-connected” TVs for two years now.  There are already platforms out there such as Apple TV and the Boxee.  Yahoo has been pressing its connected-TV “widgets.”  And Hulu certainly bridged the gap between PC and TV.

But the Sony-Google deal really does make for a King Kong – a behemoth big enough and muscular enough to move IPTV from the fringes into the mainstream of modern life.

 And there’s one other thing to note: The duo may be savvy enough to make Internet TV a reality.  Yes, Google gets computers, search, and the Internet.  Sony knows TVs.  But something on the Sony side makes the partnership potentially more potent:  Stringer has put the finishing touches on a vast management change in Sony’s TV group by turning its reins over to a group of managers who previously managed Sony’s VAIO PC,  PlayStation, networking, and mobile groups.

Stringer refers to them as his “musketeers,” and they include Bob Ishida, the SVP of Sony’s home entertainment business group who ran the VAIO business in the U.S. and Japan for years, and Kuni Suzuki, the SVP in charge of its network products and services group,

Stringer said their involvement was calculated.  They don’t just get TVs.  They get processors, operating systems, and applications, too.  Plus, they bring a “much more combative” computer industry mentality to the once, but no longer, staid world of consumer electronics.  They’ve managed in a highly price-competitive, innovation-driven segment.

The cultural revolution isn’t underway just at Sony’s Tokyo HQ.  It’s also unfolding at its San Diego-based Sony Electronics Corp., which makes TVs, computers, MP3 players, cameras, and more for the U.S. market.  Just two weeks ago, Sony named Mike Abary,  who spent 10 with the VAIO group, as the SVP of its Sony Electronics Home Division, which includes it American TV-manufacturing operation.

Thanks to the VAIO-connected execs, Sony got a jump at working with Google.  It began shipping its VAIO PCs with Google Chrome in January.  And its Sony-Ericsson unit released an Android smartphone to the Japan market in January. As a result, Stringer believes he has a six-month jump on his rivals.

Not be underestimated either is the fact that Google will be unleashing the thousands and thousands of independent who are climbing on the Android bandwagon, motivated by the riches to make by creating apps for an OS that spans smartphones, PCs, netbooks, tablets, and PCs.  

In fact, Abary said the TV will become the platform for apps that will turn the TV to an information device as utilitarian as other computing devices – apps in numbers and in kinds we simply “can’t imagine now.”

Think about a TV, populated not just with programming but with as many apps as your smartphone is.

Stringer paid homage to Google for its quick feet.  When Sony called on Google to talk, it was the Google side that proposed putting Android on Sony TVs first – and other gadgets in its portfolio later, he said. Stringer contends the relationship with Google is so far “unblemished” by any major disagreements -- “refreshing, ” he said, referring no doubt to the often contentious alliances it’s long had with the likes of Microsoft and Intel.

By Stringer’s own admission, partnerships like the one it’s forged with Google often turn into love-hate affairs.  In an aside before his sit-down began he said that running a corporation in today’s world of “coopitition” is like “jumping into a Viking boat” where you might be handed an oar – and you might be handed an axe.”  In short, you never know when you’re friend, or when you’re foe.

Today’s Google has handed him an oar, he jokes.  After this, though, he admits, who knows.  

Patrick Houston is the editorial director of NetShelter, a network of 180 tech sites.  TGDaily is one of its network partners. Patrick has been a preeminent technology reporter, editor, publisher, and innovator for many years and kindly contributed his talents to TG Daily because, we know we would have screwed it up.