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Sony CEO wants to bring back ‘wow factor’

By Yuri Kageyama

Associated Press

TOKYO — Flat-panel TVs, a music player with robotics technology and planned networking services for the PlayStation 3 video game console are a key part of Sony’s growth following a nearly three-year restructuring effort, Chief Executive Howard Stringer said today.

Such products "bring back some of the wow factor" and show the electronics and entertainment company has recovered from its past financial problems, Stringer told reporters at Sony’s Tokyo headquarters.

"The next cycle is actual innovation," he said.

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Sony’s network service, now used to pipe video games to the PlayStation 3, will be expanded to offer other kinds of content. He did not give details or a timetable.

Besides its core electronics business, Sony owns the Hollywood movie studio that made the "Spider-Man" series. Sony also has a joint venture in music with Bertelsmann AG that has Bruce Springsteen, Justin Timberlake and Beyonce Knowles under its labels.

Such entertainment content will likely be offered as downloads for the PlayStation 3 in Sony’s effort to catch up with U.S. companies like Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp.

When Stringer took the helm at Sony in 2005, the company — once a symbol of innovation with its Walkman line of personal stereos — had been stumbling, falling behind in flat-panel TVs and digital music players.

The turnaround plan that Stringer engineered — which included massive job cuts, plant closures and dropping unprofitable businesses — will be completed in March next year.

The company has sold off part of its stake in its financial unit, which had a bank and insurer. Sony also has sold to Toshiba Corp. its advanced computer chip operations for making the PlayStation 3’s "Cell" microprocessor.

On Tuesday, Stringer talked proudly about its latest TV technology and its robotic music player, dubbed Rolly.

This month, Sony began selling in Japan the world’s first television for the commercial market with an organic light-emitting diode display, or OLED. The 11-inch display on the TV called XEL-1 measures just 0.12 inches thick, and delivers clear vivid images.

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Rolly, which went on sale earlier this year, is a rolling dancing, egg-shaped music player that flaps its lidlike ends and flashes lights.

Stringer made clear he planned to stay on as chief executive and steer the next three-year plan.

"Am I going to be here for the next three years? And the answer is, ‘Yes,"’ he said.

Stringer was also upbeat about Sony’s recent operations, saying that PlayStation 3 sales were going strong worldwide, boosted by price cuts and helped by a shortage of the rival Wii console from Nintendo Co.

As many as 200,000 PS3 machines were selling a week in Europe, while 40,000 to 50,000 PS3s were selling a week in Japan, Stringer said.

Stringer acknowledged it was still unclear which next-generation video disc format will emerge the winner, although he said Blu-ray disc, the standard that Sony backs, appeared to be ahead of the competing HD DVD format, backed by Toshiba Corp. and others.

"We have momentum," he said. "But that’s all we have at the moment."

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