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Sony Eyes Premium VOD Film Releases, Including for Its Own Devices

Top executive tells conference there is "a real consumer desire" for such content and touts his company's Qriocity service.

NEW YORK - Sony Corp. is looking to offer early release films via cable operators, but also via its Qriocity streaming video on demand service that it launched earlier this year on its consumer electronics devices, Sony Corp. of America CFO Rob Wiesenthal said here Tuesday.

"There is a big white space" between theatrical and TV windows for movies and "a real consumer desire for a premium offer" that can be monetized without necessarily cannibalizing the theatrical business, he argued. He didn't detail the likely timing or price points of premium VOD movies, which most studios are planning to launch next year. But he said that for Qriocity (pronounced "curiosity"), such offers, provided on a regular basis, will help with branding and getting an advantage.

In an appearance at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference, Wiesenthal said Sony is planning to offer a mix of subscription offers, including a music service that will launch shortly, and on-demand transactions via Qriocity. Given Sony's position as both a consumer electronics and entertainment industry player, he said monthly exclusive offers, such as those early movies, concerts or 3D experiences, will help set the service apart. "Over time that will give an edge to Sony," he said.

One key part of the Qriocity strategy will be a refocusing from ownership and downloading of content to access, Wiesenthal highlighted. Accessing TV programs or films for a limited period at a lower price point than a download-to-own offer will be part of the mix, he signalled.

He highighted that the service is the first time Sony can sell to consumers after they buy a TV set, Blu-ray player or other connected devices. He said Sony expects to have 50 million connected screens in the market by March. While he doesn't know yet how big the revenue opportunity is, there certainly should be some income per month for each connected TV, he said.

With much of the UBS conference focusing on changing content business models in the digital age, Wiesenthal predicted that content companies will eventually make networks and proprams available a la carte, because consumers insist on it. Content owners will find a way to offer that and maintain their economics, too, he suggested.

Asked about Netflix, Wiesenthal said Sony has an economic relationship with the firm via its offers on PlayStation and Blu-ray, while it is also selling Netflix its content. What Netflix proved, similar to iTunes in its early days, is that ease of use and the opportunity to discover new content can trump fresher content, he said.

Asked about Google TV, which recently became available on Sony TV sets, Wiesenthal it is better than connecting a laptop to TV sets, but is clearly only phase one with the user interface likely getting updates over time.

Wiesenthal also told the UBS conference that a 3D channel joint venture between Sony, Imax and Discovery Communications will launch during the first quarter of 2011. The network venture had previously only signalled a likely launch some time early in 2011.