Interview: Sony keeps iOS close as it waits for Apple TV

Image: Sony

They may be each other’s respective home electronics nemeses – but, for Sony’s digital content offerings, Apple’s iOS is actually the Japanese giant’s fourth most important platform.

Already available on Sony and Android devices, the Sony Music Unlimited subscription service – part of the cloud-based Sony Entertainment Network alongside PlayStation Network and Video Unlimited – launched on iOS in May and has a million active monthly users. After making some changes this week, Michael Aragon, VP and GM of Sony’s global digital video and music services, tells paidContent:

“It would be irresponsible for us not to address the fact that we have a lot of loyal Sony users who love iPhone; it would be punishing them. Android and iOS make it easier for us to reach the masses.”

If it succeeds, Sony Entertainment Network could realise Sony’s long-held dreams of uniting content and hardware under one roof. But the reality is that Sony now lags rivals in key product categories like mobile and tablet. Going over the top of those devices is, therefore, crucial. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Sony will distribute its content over any future Apple TV, Aragon tells me:

“We watch what everybody’s doing. There are a lot of very formidable competitors out there, not just Apple.

“It’s still such an early market, we have a few things in the works that are just focused on what we do well; I can’t disclose any of that.

“How we differentiate is, Sony has a global presence in these services.  We’re definitely the only company that has devices in homes or on the go that cover the things you would do in your everyday life. How do we think of them as one service rather than three services?”

Sounds like Sony could a single super-subscription to Sony Entertainment Network’s game, music and video trinity, rather than the current, distinct trio. Could the network also add other content categories, like e-books?

“Bundling, from a product persecutive and from a consumer perspective, are definitely things we are excited about,” Aragon replies.

“We’re evaluating – do we create an API for an app platform? Game, video and music are the big ones, but there are certainly opportunities.”

Building Sony’s digital content ambitions has not been an easy task. Aragon has had to coalesce disparate business units in to a coherent consumer offering, but PSN suffered a debilitating hack attack and the whole kaboodle was last year rebranded from the confusing “Qriocity” name after just a year.

“We have over 100 million accounts globally right now. We’ll be close to a billion-dollar business very soon,” Aragon says.

“We’re the first substantial subscription music service in Japan – we beat Spotify and others to market, which is quite an important thing for us.”

Aragon’s determination not to let the big boys of subscription digital content, like Netflix and Spotify, get their way was borne out by tweaking the Sony Music Unlimited offering this week. The free-trial window has been doubled to 60 days, and a new half-price tier of £4.99-per-month introduced for customers who want their music only on PS3 and PC. That shows Aragon needs to work harder to convince more people to test the offering.

“It’s probably the longest trial on the market,” he says. “This service is very new. Data is proving what we thought – it takes people a little while to figure out the whole on-demand subscription thing.

“We don’t want an extremely long conversion time, because this is not a ‘free’ service – but we need to give enough time so people understand a lot of the benefits. They’re so conditioned to syncing their music from device to device.”

Neither Sony nor its rivals will get to succeed with over-the-top connected TV content if actual consumer connection rates are low, as many analysts say.

Aragon says Sony is giving its new TV buyers around $50 worth in internet video content when they open the box, conditioning them to go online with their television.

“In Europe, especially, we’ve seen quite a bit of uptake in connected TVs – a little bit more than the U.S., which is surprising in some respects.

“In Europe, we have better connect rates and usage than other countries.”