Sony Pushes Bravia Brand for HDTV, Forecasts Blu-ray Price Drop

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Sony Electronics will be simplifying its marketing and heavily promoting its Bravia brand for high-definition TV sets, Sony executives announced Monday at a press briefing in New York.

While it had a successful 2006 that saw it finish atop various consumer electronics categories, including number-one dollar share for the booming LCD display market, Sony has undertaken what it calls a “silver-bullet program” internally to streamline its branding, says Sony Electronics president and COO Stan Glasgow.

“One of the challenges is, how do we maintain the strength of the Sony brand?” says Glasgow.

Sony plans to focus on three or four major marketing campaigns, and expand the use of its Bravia brand for high-definition displays. The company still sees its experience in signal processing and color reproduction as significant strengths in a TV set market that has some 70-80 players, all buying basically the same LCD panels. While Glasgow says that Sony will not try to compete on price with low-cost manufacturers, he predicts that overall set pricing will “continue to erode” at a rate of about 20% per year.

That price erosion will soon extend to Sony’s Blu-ray high-definition optical disc format, which has been vying with the HD-DVD format developed by Toshiba to be the next-generation DVD format. Glasgow says that the price of Blu-ray players should drop over 50% in 2007. Sony, whose current Blu-ray standalone player sells for $999, plans to introduce a $599 player by early summer. That could be expected to sell for under $500 by the next holiday shopping season. Overall, Sony predicts that between Blu-ray and HD-DVD, some 250,000 high-definition disc players will be sold this year, following 44,000 sold last year.

Sony didn’t have much new to report on its Bravia Internet Video Link, a device it introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. The device is an add-on module that will allow Bravia hi-def sets to easily display streaming video. The company hasn’t signed up any new content partners besides AOL, Yahoo and Grouper, who announced at CES that they would produce high-quality broadband content for the device. Randy Waynick, SVP of Sony’s Home Products Division, says the first Bravia TV model that will work with the Internet Video Link will begin shipping in April, and that the device itself will start shipping in May, for a price of $299. The module will not be backwards-compatible with earlier Bravia HD sets.

Waynick says that there has been a “tremendous amount of interest” from both consumers and potential content partners in the product.

“This [Internet video] is the beginning of the next big boom in the industry,” says Waynick.

While HDTV set sales are already a boom for Sony, Glasgow estimates that about 40% of HDTV set-owners overall still don’t have their display hooked up to a high-definition source, either from cable, satellite or an over-the-air antenna. Sony has made significant efforts to educate consumers on HDTV, such as holding some 15,000 demonstration events over the past year and setting up informational displays with major retailers, and will be meeting with top executives from major cable operators next month to try to address the issue.