New Sony chief says artificial intelligence key to its survival

Group to keep offering PlayStation Vue TV service as it fits its quest for big data

 Kenichiro Yoshida, chief executive, says Sony could do more to utilise its own data trove, such as the 80m monthly users on its PlayStation Network © Bloomberg

Kenichiro Yoshida, chief executive, says Sony could do more to utilise its own data trove, such as the 80m monthly users on its PlayStation Network © Bloomberg

Sony’s new chief executive has positioned data and artificial intelligence at the centre of its survival strategy, warning that the likes of Amazon and Google pose an existential threat to the Japanese technology and entertainment group.

“The data mega players [such as Google, Amazon and Facebook] are so powerful they are capable of doing all kinds of things,” Kenichiro Yoshida said in his first media session since taking the helm of Sony in April. “The big challenge for our survival lies in the extent to which we can take control of data and AI. I personally feel a strong sense of crisis.” 

The comments by Mr Yoshida come as a recently revived Sony is looking to revive investment in entertainment content and technology. A day earlier, the group struck a $2.3bn deal to buy outright control of EMI Music Publishing, taking advantage of a recovery in the music industry driven by streaming services. 

Following a decade of deep losses driven by its ailing consumer electronics division, Sony has increased its focus on subscription revenue from online gaming and streaming of videos and music.

As part of that strategy, Mr Yoshida said the company would take a more strategic approach to collecting data from its users across a range of devices and platforms, spanning PlayStation games, financial services and mobile phones.

Sony does not intend to compete directly with the huge data platforms operated by Apple and other technology giants. But Mr Yoshida said Sony could do better in utilising its own data trove — such as the 80m monthly active users on Sony’s cloud gaming service PlayStation Network — to create content that matched users’ preferences. 

“We want to remain close to our users and I think that’s how we can survive,” Mr Yoshida said. 

For this reason, Sony will continue to offer its PlayStation Vue internet streaming TV service despite calls by some analysts to give up the effort in a clearly crowded market led by Netflix. 

“It is clear as crystal that Sony has no competitive advantage in this business. It has not reached even a 1m user base in the last three years,” said Jefferies analyst Atul Goyal. But Mr Yoshida said PS Vue offered valuable real-time data on viewers’ preferences. 

In February, Sony announced plans to launch a ride-hailing service in partnership with several Japanese taxi companies to obtain data on vehicles. The company is looking to expand the sale of image sensors, installed in Apple’s iPhones and other mobile devices, for use in self-driving cars. 

“We want to contribute to the safety of mobility,” Mr Yoshida said, adding that Sony had no plans to make its own vehicle.

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