Chris Deering looks back at Sony
Ex-Sony exec dodges PS paternity test
Techscape "Sony is like Disney without the devices," Chris Deering told me not long ago.
Known to some as "The Father of the PlayStation", Deering stepped down from Sony recently, where he was president of Sony Europe and chairman/CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE). At last count, Sony Europe accounted for 24 per cent of Sony sales globally.
Deering tried to dissuade me that he was really the "father" of the PlayStation.
"Ken Kuteragi is the 'father' for sure. The games business is really about the software."
But Chris Deering is the consumer marketer who made sure the PlayStation (PS) and PSP sold. And it did. Conservative estimates put the rough numbers at more than 75 million PlayStation units (PS-1 and PS-2) sold in Europe yielding an estimated €30bn euros to Sony. Remember, this is Europe alone and does not include the released recently PSP.
A product of the Harvard Business School, Deering worked at Gillette and McKinsey before becoming VP at games software maker Atari. In 1985 became a senior VP at Columbia Pictures. In 1990, Deering became EVP and COO of Columbia/Tristar International, later renamed Sony Pictures Entertainment.
"I was working for Sony Pictures and was introduced to Ken Kuteragi. He told me 'that the games behemoths don't take Europe very seriously; that they milk it through various distribution channels.' So I told him, let me take over the games in Europe."
Kuteragi's next move was to challenge Deering: "Why? You'll never get it over 60 per cent of the US games sales?"
"I thought we could and we eventually did with both PS-1 and PS-2," Deering recalls.
Deering started building "successes from hitchhiking on the Sony Pictures product". Ghostbusters, he says was a "good example of cross-over commercial downstream exploitation."
Can Deering be criticised for creating a gaming phenomenon which takes children away from their parents, leaving them isolated and vulnerable? Or, should he be praised for giving these kids something to do?
"In a generous sense," Deering says, "you could say both are true. But the PlayStation was really just an updated delivery system - kids were playing games long before PS. Look, different countries have different cultural nuances. In Germany for instance, it's not desirable to let guests in your home see a games console under your TV. Games arcades were by bus stations and train stations in dangerous parts of town and games shooting people is not considered a positive thing to bring into the home."
So where and when did things turnaround in gaming?
"I think it started when the educational component sprang to life at the Broderbunds of the world." Deering becomes excited at this point. "'Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?' was great. I met Doug Carlston (Broderbund founder) and thought he was running a great company."
Deering stresses that he's giving "no Sony views but personally ideas moving sideways out-of-the-box."(sic)
"As Sony's portfolio of businesses diversifies, then Sony might move toward services in order to be more efficient in terms of capital employed," he began. "They have their ups and downs, but..."
Deering clearly thinks Sir Howard Stringer, the recently appointed new honcho at Sony worldwide - the first non-Japanese leader Sony has ever had - is going to be a big success. "He's bringing in new ideas and new engineers are coming along.
"Of course the major trend-line seems to be moving from devices to services, particularly as chips become cheaper and more available. Bandwidth is increasing in both wireless and fixed-line so the pipelines are growing fast. I don't think I invented these truths and anybody can see that anything that can go wireless, will."
Sony has over the last 20 years moved aggressively into the content arena with Sony/BMG Music, Sony Pictures and surprisingly even has a Sony Bank, Sony Assurance and Sony Life divisions.
"Sony is an entertainment concern like a Viacom or Disney without the devices," he says, alluding to the increasing Sony content focus."
He says: "iTunes won't play on Windows devices and Sony songs won't work on iPods, so we launched Sony Connect which is, as are the others, more track-based and less album-based sales of music."
How much autonomy did Deering have from the Tokyo executives at Sony?
"Tokyo let us run and expand the business while giving us the resources to do it. We had a good amount of self-determination. SCE was set-up to be a JV between Sony Music and Sony Electronics, so generally the type of response I would get from them was 'Please get on with it - we're busy!'
"Japan was kind of the Hollywood of games, and particularly game devices, though the command and control within the electronics industry is traditionally much stronger."
Why hasn't Deering started his own business?
"Because I like things that make a big impact - like millions of people using the Gillette product, and the same at Atari. I'm not sure I could have built a company with that kind of impact. But who wouldn't have wanted to start eBay or Google?"
Now that he's retired, does Deering think he'll take the entrepreneurial plunge?
"If I do," he said, "it'll be around a concept where application software helps you find what you want - I call it 'concierge'.
"If Google's a 'librarian' whom you ask for a particular book title, then concierge is a librarian who discriminates and makes selections for you based on learning what you like. So, everybody's around the dining-room table snacking - and more and more we're snacking on digital content. The 'entertainment concierge' comes to you, on your mobile or whatever, and says 'there's a live event going on right now that you're gonna love'." ®
Bill Robinson may be reached at: [email protected]