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Stringer Urges DRM Settlement In CES Keynote

1/16/2006 02:00:00 AM Eastern

Sony chairman Howard Stringer was not at all cryptic during his keynote address during his opening-day keynote at CES, where he brought out the major players behind Sony's upcoming movie “The DaVinci Code” and stressed the need for Hollywood and hardware vendors to get together on copyright protection issues.

Stringer got straight to the point, stating that the studios and hardware manufacturers have to work out their digital rights management issues because consumers are now looking for their content in ways that will require downloading to the home. Stringer noted that the traditional relationship between content providers and viewers has been flipped, with consumers now demanding the right to pull content into their homes instead of simply sitting back and waiting for it to be pushed to them by Hollywood.

“Content and technology are strange bedfellows, but we must understand each other,” Stringer said.

Joining Stringer on stage to discuss this and other topics was “The DaVinci Code” actor Tom Hanks, the book's author Dan Brown, and directors Ron Howard and Brian Grazer. The group discussed the usage of high-definition in the cinema and the impact technology is having on the movie industry.

This situation creates rights issues, Stringer said, and this led into Stringer's main theme discussing how the hardware and content provider communities will have to work together and find a happy medium so consumers can have entertainment in a format of their choosing.

He also directly addressed the flap over Sony BMG's copyright software that exposed computers to hackers, saying in a post-keynote press conference that Sony Corp. received a great deal of somewhat unwarranted flack.

“Sony took a beating in that respect. All the headlines were about Sony when it was a Sony BMG issue,” he said.

The situation highlighted the fine line that a content and hardware provider like Sony has to walk, he said, adding that the studios are not making his task any easier as they play all ends against the middle when it comes to digital rights management.

Stringer said the need to push content to consumers creates an excellent opportunity for Sony, with little downside. Hanks agreed, saying he does not foresee movie viewers forsaking theaters to watch at home, but he put the onus squarely on movie makers shoulders to keep their industry alive.

“If the content is first rate then the box office will be there. People will always want to go to the movies,” Hanks said.

Another area of downloadable content addressed by Stringer centered on the Sony Reader, a new e-book device expected to ship in June. “The DaVinci Code” author Dan Brown said such devices will open up a whole new world to readers, without destroying the print book industry. It will give people the ability to carry 100 books around in one device and download new titles whenever they are needed.

On the high-definition side of the business Stringer had CBS sportscaster Greg Gumbel come out and explain how HD improves the viewing experience for just about every sport. The detail HD provides gives the viewer an entirely different appreciation for what the athlete must do.

“In golf you can see the texture of the green, while with NCAA basketball, it captures the emotion of the players and fans,” Gumbel said.

Stringer then had Sony competitor Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Computers, come out and discuss Blu-ray Disc. Against a background filled with Sony LCD televisions, Dell poked some fun at Stringer, explaining to the audience how Dell is a top-selling maker of LCD TVs in the United States. Dell went on to say that he believes in Blu-ray because it will give his customers a format that will not be supplanted in 10 years.

Having Stringer and Dell on the same stage discussing common technological interests should not be viewed as an aberration, but how business must now be done.

“We have to have a relationship with everyone these days,” Stringer said, “The irony is there when we work with, say, Toshiba on a new processor for PlayStation3 yet compete with them over HD DVD.”

Stringer said there is little chance to avoid a format war between Blu-ray and HD DVD. While talks between Sony and Toshiba came close to settling the issue, they fell apart over issues he would not elaborate on, but the talks did not fail because Sony walked away from the bargaining table.

“There is no question that a format war is not a good idea, but I don't see what we can do about it,” Stringer said.