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Sony seeks synergy

PSP device to narrow electronics-media gap

The vidgame fans who bought about a million units of Sony’s highly touted PSP last weekend just wanted the hottest new gaming device since the Xbox.

But for Sony and its new topper Howard Stringer, the first signs of the PSP’s success are about much more than expanding Sony’s dominant stake in the vidgame console space into handheld devices.

It’s about that elusive word the conglom’s new CEO says will be at the heart of his tenure: synergy.

When named Sony topper several weeks ago, Stringer pledged to help bridge still-deep divides between the Japanese giant’s electronics business and its movie and music operations.

“We look forward to joining our twin pillars of engineering and technology with our commanding presence in entertainment and content creation to deliver the most advanced devices and forms of entertainment to the consumer,” exec said at the time.

Sony execs have proclaimed such a commitment for years, but with little substance to match it. Despite its dominant position in electronics and stake in Sony BMG Music, company fell far behind Apple in the digital music sector and has made virtually no progress in its efforts to play catch-up.

And in a lack of cooperation that leaves many observers baffled, there’s no communication between Sony Pictures and the company’s successful vidgame unit. Sony movies are routinely licensed to other publishers to make into games.

If it’s successful, though, PSP could help form those bridges for the first time. While many of the hardcore fans were reportedly primarily interested in its impressive gaming capabilities, the PSP is designed to be a hub for many of Sony’s content businesses.

In addition to games, PSP plays movies on a proprietary disc format designed by Sony. The first studio to agree to distribute movies for the PSP was Sony Pictures, with Lions Gate and Disney later agreeing to give the format a try.

PSP also plays music that users can save on Sony-designed memory sticks. And while it plays songs in a variety of formats, device is made to work seamlessly with conglom’s online musicstore Connect.

Insiders say Connect is also being built with the idea of adding other downloadable content, such as movies and games, where Sony has a strong presence (though Connect does offer music from competing labels).

In other words, consumers could end up enjoying all their portable games, movies and music on the Sony PSP, on discs or downloaded directly from an online store designed by Sony, with the widest selection of content always available from Sony.

Idea’s is the same as that behind the upcoming PlayStation 3, which will use conglom’s proprietary Blu-ray high-definition DVD format and offer seamless broadband integration that will likely also coordinate with Connect.

But to get to that place, analysts agree, Sony must first establish the PSP as a successful vidgame device and then use that base to make it a true multimedia powerhouse. That’s why, for now, conglom is focusing on the 24 titles from different publishers that are out at launch.

The “Spider-Man 2” discs shipping with the first 1 million PSPs, conversely, are positioned more as a bonus, with a handful of movies from Sony Pictures, Disney and Lions Gate expected to go on sale next month and little talk about music content.

But make no mistake, insiders say. Sony’s plans are clear: Today, PSP conquers the vidgame market, tomorrow the entertainment world.

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