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Sony: wishing to be in a different world?
By: Scott Bradner
Very few people doubt that the Internet has had a major impact on a lot of the world. Clearly there are many places that are essentially Internet-free but the Internet is a major factor in most of the developed world. Not everyone is all that happy with the impact. Dictators are threatened by the Internet as an information channel, moralists decry the availability of porn, regulators are scared of the unpredictability of innovation and some businesses have trouble understanding or dealing with the sifting technology. High profile examples of the latter are the big media companies who seem to be genetically incapable of developing business models that leverage the power of the Internet and, instead, cling tenaciously to models developed half a century ago. They will lose on the long run but they sure are making things hard on themselves in the meanwhile.
Sony is a company that both understands and laments the Internet. In mid May Sony hired George Bailey away from IBM to oversee Sony's Transformation Management division. (By the way, every company should have a division with a name like this.) Sir Howard Stringer, Sony's chairman, CEO and president said: "We are fundamentally transforming Sony into a more innovative, integrated and agile global company." A lot of Sony seems to be part of the transformation but not Sony Pictures. Michael Lynton, the CEO of Sony Pictures, was recently on a panel focusing on the "Future of Filmmaking." He was quoted as saying "I'm a guy who seems nothing good having come from the Internet, period." Looks to me like one of George's early tasks is to apply a clue by four to Michael.
It is more than passing strange for Lynton to have said what he is quoted as saying -- he was formerly the CEO of AOL Europe, and AOL owes its very existence to the Internet. Maybe Lynton was thinking only about the impact of the Internet on media companies and spoke more broadly than he meant. If that is what he meant to say then I could understand it better considering that industry's aversion to any new technology from audio tape and VCRs to portable media players. Maybe Lynton has done us a favor and exposed the media industry's feeling that the future is always to be feared. The movie industry publication Variety said it best when it said in a headline that Lynton and the other people on the panel were "wary of the future."
What would today look like in a parallel universe that never developed the Internet? Networking pundit David Isenberg explored this question in a recent talk - "Broadband without Internet ain't worth squat." (http://isen.com/blog/2009/04/broadband-without-internet-ain-worth.html) I'm just as glad to live in a universe where there is an Internet.
A world without the Internet would not be enough for the media people like Lynton - just about all media-related technology that gives a user some degree of choice would also have to be missing. Remember, a representative of the same media industry told a Senate hearing that, while it was OK for a user to record some songs off the radio, the user should be forced to play them back exactly as they were recorded -- skipping a song you did not like should not be allowed. I wonder if these people are the obedient robots in their private lives as they want us to be on ours.
disclaimer: A university that turns out obedient robots would not be called Harvard but the university has not expressed any opinion on the private lives of media lobbyists so the above musing is mine alone.