Nothing but Blue Skies?
It was January 4, 2006. The day before the official start of the annual Consumer Electronics Show. More than 150,000 people ready to pounce on acres of the latest technologies. Occupying nearly the entire east end of the Las Vegas Convention Center’s long Central Hall, is Sony. Curvy temporary walls dotted with countless flat panel TVs are practically invisible as thousands of journalists crowd the space for the last press conference of the day.
The future is looking bright for Sony. On display is the upcoming PlayStation 3, and even without definitive specs, it’s clearly poised to be a revolution. Inside it, a Blu-ray drive. Despite a looming format war with HD-DVD, the Sony-championed Blu-ray had the solid backing of several major studios—including Sony’s own—plus countless electronics manufacturers. Television offerings from small to large held promise for the 1080p evolution. Soon, new Chairman and CEO Howard Stringer would outline Sony’s vision of the digital future, "In 2006 sales of high-definition television sets will eclipse standard sets. It will put the shift from black and white to color to shame."
What he likely didn’t know, what few could know, was that 2006 would be the last year Sony had #1 market share in the TV business, the most visible moment of a downward slide resulting in billions in losses over the coming years.
The story of Sony’s rise and fall is not unique in consumer electronics; neither the first, nor likely the last, CE empire to stumble. From Japan to Korea to China, manufacturing titans vie for profit and supremacy in the global market, the balance of power shifting from company to company, country to country.
And that story starts much earlier, in America.
Header image by Geoffrey Morrison.
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