Sony, Cisco systems target TV revamp

New tools open up video to different platforms

The annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has long been known as a place where companies gather to exhibit and sell TV sets. In 2011, though, at least two major companies are talking about reinventing television altogether.

Network engineering company Cisco and Sony used remarkably similar language to describe their initiatives on Jan. 5 during the CES press day.

Cisco CEO John Chambers introduced Videoscape, a suite of tools designed to make it easier for viewers to get all their video content on all their devices, and to integrate video messaging and social media with all that content.

A few hours later, Sony prexy/CEO Howard Stringer said Sony would kick off a Television Redefined ad campaign this year. The next big industry transformation is the marriage of television and Internet, said Stringer, adding our aim is to redefine the way consumers interact with television.

On the surface, the two companies seem to be competing, but in fact they’re taking very different approaches to this reinvention.

Cisco’s pitch is for a network architecture, not a consumer product. The company is targeting traditional service providers who have been irked by Google’s attempt to deliver competing content to customers over the providers’ own networks.

It’s dangling the prospect of expanded business models and extended service reach, claiming these integrated services create entirely new businesses and enable the providers to sell video to customers outside their own networks.Sony’s pitch, by comparison, was straight to consumers.

Stringer said Sony’s goal is to become the world’s leading provider of networked entertainment, and he’s pushing its networked TVs, PlayStations and Blu-ray players as portals to Internet content.

Conspicuous by its near-absence was Sony’s Google-powered Internet TV, which got a brief mention and was not heard from again. Stringer didn’t dangle much of a carrot for network providers, who may not be eager to supply the infrastructure for their competition.

Sony’s concept of reinvention is modest compared to Cisco’s. In fact, it would actually fit neatly within Videoscape. A demo of the Cisco tools showed web content incorporated into a user’s channel lineup alongside traditional cable channels, and that’s just one part of the Videoscape concept.

However, Sony has tens of millions of web-enabled devices deployed and more coming. Cisco has, as of its announcement, a single Australian provider committed to Videoscape. So whatever else can be said about Sony, it has something Videoscape lacks and dearly wants: customers.