Sony pushes online products in Vegas

Blu-ray sales could triple or even quintuple in 2009.

That was the word from analysts at the Blu-ray Disc Assn.’s Consumer Electronics Show gathering, one of the very few events at the confab with positive news to showcase.

Coming off a year in which Blu-ray domestic disc sales more than quadrupled to 24 million and player sales roughly tripled to 10 million, industry reps were even more bullish on ’09 despite the economic downturn.

Speaking on a panel, analyst Tom Adams of Adams Media Research said disc sales would double or triple this year, taking them to more than 50 million. Richard Doherty of Envisioneering was even more bullish, predicting disc sales would grow by a factor of five or six, potentially taking them up to 150 million by the end of the year.

That’s very good news for studios, which saw the overall homevid biz decline 5.5% last year despite Blu-ray’s growth. The question for this year is how much standard DVDs will continue to decline and whether Blu-ray’s expansion can make up for some or even all of that drop.

The holidays, in particular, proved strong for Blu-ray, with a full 8 million discs sold, fueled in large part by the drop of player prices to under $200. Warners’ “The Dark Knight” was the first Blu-ray title to exceed 1 million units sold in the U.S.

Blu-ray’s growth is particularly important for struggling Sony, which owns most of the format’s patents.

Sony CEO Howard Stringer spoke in a Thursday morning keynote at CES, where he pledged that more than 90% of the company’s products will connect wirelessly to the Internet and to each other by 2011.

Prediction was part of an emphasis by Stringer on connecting devices in order to deliver digital content. “The lines between CE (consumer electronics), IT (information technology) and entertainment has been blurring for some time. We must now accept this fusion is reality,” he told attendees at a morning keynote speech.

Exec listed seven rules that he claimed are necessary for digital success in the dismal economy but could also be read as the direction in which he’s aiming to take Sony.

Beyond persistent connection, convergence and services, Stringer emphasized open standards — a declaration that surprised many in the audience since Sony has traditionally been known for closed systems and not even coordinating between its own divisions, let alone working with partners.

Stringer made only brief mention of the recession and didn’t specifically address how Sony will cope. There are reports that his company will announce substantial layoffs in the near future.

Instead, most of Stringer’s 90-minute-plus address was an overview of Sony’s business, from Blu-ray to videogames to televisions. Exec was joined by numerous celebs, including Tom Hanks, who mercilessly mocked the marketing-speak written for him on the TelePrompTer; R&B star Usher; baseball great Reggie Jackson; Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of an upcoming syndicated yakker from Sony TV; Disney Animation topper John Lasseter, who touted Blu-ray; and DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, who talked about digital 3-D, for which Sony makes projectors.

Sony CEO demonstrated several products still in development, including a paper-thin, flexible video display screen.

Also Thursday at CES, Disney-ABC TV prexy Anne Sweeney talked about her company’s intentions to work with Intel on interactive versions of “Good Morning America” and the “Lost” series finale (Daily Variety, Jan. 8). Exec also emphasized that digital technologies are making her company’s networks less important as destinations. “ABC, ABC Family, Disney Family are not just network brands, they’re strong content brands that can live and thrive on any device,” she told attendees.

In a morning event, satcaster Dish Network unveiled a digital video recorder that includes technology from its new subsidiary, Sling Networks, that allows users to watch recorded content on numerous Internet-connected devices.

Visit Variety.com/ces for additional CES news and product peeks.

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