Sony's PS3: High-Scorer No More
This column was originally published on RealMoney on Dec. 28 at 2:38 p.m. EST. It's being republished as a bonus for TheStreet.com readers. For more information about subscribing to RealMoney, please click here.
After more than a decade at the top of the video game heap, during which it sold more than 200 million consoles, Sony (SNE) is set to be knocked off its firm position as King of the Hill because of its flawed PlayStation 3 strategy. This is only one of many reasons to avoid shares of the consumer-electronics conglomerate, but it's certainly the most important.
Zapped by Blu-Ray
Among the most glaring errors Sony has made with the PS3 has been the inclusion of a next-generation Blu-ray DVD drive in the console. Having seen Blu-ray in action up close, I can say it certainly is impressive.
But it has also had the effect of driving up the cost of the two versions of the PS3 to $500 (20 GB hard drive) and $600 (60 GB hard drive) respectively, much more expensive than the competing Microsoft (MSFT) Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii, with no discernible improvement in game quality. Shortages of certain Blu-ray components have resulted in extremely short supplies of the PS3, giving Microsoft and Nintendo some running room to build market share.
In addition, the competition between the two next-generation DVD technologies, Blu-ray and HD-DVD, is causing an enormous amount of confusion among consumers and hindering adoption of both. This is a critical issue; slow consumer adoption of Blu-ray will make it more difficult to build economies of scale, which normally result in lower manufacturing costs.Look at the relatively unsuccessful audio formats DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD for a historical parallel. And in a world where digital distribution of media is becoming more prevalent by the day, it makes little sense for Sony to have made such a bold bet on a physical format. Sure, we're years away from high-definition video downloads being both quick and economical, but download services such as Apple's (AAPL) iTunes as well as numerous file-sharing programs clearly are shrinking the size of the market for physical media such as DVDs and CDs. Of course, the HD-DVD camp will suffer along with Blu-ray. But Sony is disproportionately tied to Blu-ray, given its strong dependence on its video-game division for profit.
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