sony apple ipod iphone walkman

How Did Sony Miss The Boat (That Rocked)?

Sony could be in the market position now dominated by iPod/iTunes.  How and why did they miss the proverbial ‘boat on the rivers of gold’ that delivers music, movies, TV shows, podcasts, games and books to portable players and mobile phones the world over?

Why isn’t the much-loved Walkman the player we all use to access the plethora of digital entertainment?

First, a recent history of Sony.

  • Thirty-one years ago, in 1979, Sony launched the Walkman. It revolutionised music listening habits “by allowing people to carry music with them” (quote from Wikipedia that has the full Walkman story).
  • Twenty-one years ago Sony purchased Columbia Pictures in September 1989 (renamed Sony Pictures Entertainment in 1991). The movie franchises they inherited include The Karate Kid, Spider-Man, Stuart Little, Men in Black, plus numerous TV programs.
  • Nineteen years ago in 1991 Sony Music Entertainment was formed after they purchased CBS Records, giving them ownership of music by Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash, Pearl Jam…the list of major acts goes on and on. Read full list).
  • In the personal/home gaming industry, Sony launched the portable game machine PlayStation fifteen years ago in December 1994 (Japan) and September 1995 (North America).

By the late 90’s Sony had the world’s leading portable music player, games player, music publishing, movie and television production studios. The Walkman was even the generic name for a portable music player.

The first mass-produced MP3 player sold in the USA in 1998, then the Apple iPod and iTunes launched in 2001. Fast forward to today and the iPod is the generic device name for accessing music, games and video content, and iTunes is the number one online destination for buying music, music videos, podcasts, movies, television shows , games – and now books!

How did Sony NOT realise that the future was a digital MP3/games device linked to a Sony-owned online distribution channel?  Did Sony really dismiss the iPod as a fad that could never usurp the Walkman’s market dominance (and overcome Sony’s famous brand loyalty)?

As a marketer with many years experience creating advertising campaigns for global consumer electronics brands like Compaq and Philips, I would love to hear your thoughts about Sony.
– Did they make a monumental error of judgment when iPod/iTunes came along?
– Why didn’t their legendary brand loyalty overcome these threats?
– Sony has abdicated their technology ‘crown’ to Apple – what do you like/dislike about Apple’s emergence as the new ‘king’ of consumer technology brands?

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