Business News

Sony to Challenge Apple with Music, Video Service

Tim Bradshaw in London, Joseph?Menn?in San?Francisco and?Andrew?Edgecliffe-Johnson in New York

Sony will begin its latest attempt to fight back against Apple’s dominance in the digital media field on Wednesday, when it unveils a new music and video subscription service to run across a range of its devices.

Sony Building
Shizuo Kambayashi

The announcement is expected to be made in Berlin at the IFA technology show, just hours before Apple’s own music-themed press conference in California, which is expected to include updates to its iPod, iTunes and Apple TV products.

Sources in the media industry told the Financial Times that Sony would use its PlayStation games consoles as the starting point for a new service that users will be able to use across a range of other internet-connected devices. That could include Walkman music players, Vaio computers, Bravia TVs, Blu-ray players and Sony Ericsson mobile phones.

Tens of millions of PlayStation3 and PlayStation Portable consoles are already connected to the internet, which allows them to download movies.

Howard Stringer, president of Sony, said last year that 90 per cent of Sony products would be able to connect to each other and the internet by 2011. Its $260m acquisition of Gracenote, a service which can track and identify music files across devices, in 2008 could play a significant role in the new service, which has been two years in the making.

The service is not expected to be available to consumers until next year, as deals are confirmed with all the major labels and studios.

Sony phased out its Connect music service in the US and Europe in 2007, leaving the way clear for Apple to consolidate its dominance in the digital download market. Since then Sony has used third- party providers to supply a digital download music service.

Content owners have been keen for a company with Sony’s scale and marketing power to counterbalance Apple’s dominance.

Apple is expected on Wednesday to introduce new social networking features to its iTunes software, allowing users to share details of the songs and movies they are buying and watching with friends on Twitter and Facebook.

Apple’s iTunes improvements will also include 90- second clips of songs, up from 30 seconds now, which will give potential buyers more grounds for deciding on purchases.

A new iPod touch, featuring the same high-resolution display that was debuted on the iPhone 4 earlier this year, is also anticipated. Apple is also likely to put out modest improvements to its Apple TV gadget, a set-top box that has sold poorly at $299, and perhaps cut the price to as little as $99.

Sony and Apple declined to comment.