Hirai stays silent on promotion rumors

The exec widely thought to be the Sony heir apparent, Kaz Hirai, dodged questions about his future at the company during a roundtable of foreign media in Tokyo on Thursday before going on to talk about vidgames, films and TVs.

Hirai, who took over as head of the the consumer products and services division in April, refused to comment on widespread speculation that he will replace Howard Stringer as prexy, chairman and CEO.

“It’s not an issue I can decide,” he said, describing his job now as running the business he was given “to generate maximum returns.”

Moving on to the highly anticipated PlayStation Vita handheld, Hirai said the rollout will begin in Japan at the end of the year, and continue with releases in the U.S. and Europe early in 2012. He declined to give sales targets or other hard figures, saying Sony will announce more info at the Tokyo Game Show in September.

“We’ve been getting good buzz, good feedback and we are putting together a great product lineup,” Hirai said.

He also noted that since Sony restored all of its online services in all territories in July, following devastating hacker attacks last spring, “we’ve regained 90% of our normal customers.”

Hirai reaffirmed Sony’s commitment to its pic biz, noting the contributions of the Sony 3D technology center in Culver City to the company’s 3D products, as well as the value of SPE’s expertise in developing products and services for pic content.

The exec said the company is shaking up its strategy and structure, but is not about to exit any of its core businesses, particularly its troubled TV set manufacture and sales operation.

While admitting that the TV set biz is “very challenging… there’s an oversupply of panels and more (production) capacity is coming on line,” Hirai insisted that Sony “can make it profitable.”

The company, he explained, is shifting from a strategy focusing on TV market share and volume to one that prioritizes value to consumers.

“If we concentrate on market share and units sold we can’t turn the business around,” he said.

Sony has bled red ink from its TV operations for eight straight years, while slashing its TV sales target this year from 27 million to 22 million units.

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