Sony CEO says Vita gaming sales near expectations

BERLIN Thu Aug 30, 2012 12:57pm EDT

President and CEO of Sony Corporation Kazuo Hirai addresses a news conference before the start of the IFA consumer electronics fair in Berlin, August 29, 2012. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz

President and CEO of Sony Corporation Kazuo Hirai addresses a news conference before the start of the IFA consumer electronics fair in Berlin, August 29, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Tobias Schwarz

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BERLIN (Reuters) - Sony Chief Executive Kazuo Hirai said on Thursday that its new gaming device Vita was mostly selling in line with its expectations, though in some places it was off the pace.

Vita hit the stores earlier this year, the latest in a line of mobile gaming gadgets in the spirit of Nintendo's Game Boy and Atari's Lynx, but some analysts have questioned whether there is room for such a device in a market increasingly dominated by games played on smartphones and tablets.

"Worldwide, the Vita is pretty much along where we would expect it to be, maybe trending behind in certain territories," Hirai told Reuters on the sidelines of IFA, Europe's biggest consumer trade show, held in Berlin.

He declined to disclose where sales were lagging.

When he took the helm at Sony in April, Hirai vowed to revive the fortunes of the company, maker of the Walkman music player and PlayStation games console, after years of competition from foreign rivals had broken its dominance in consumer electronics.

Part of the plan is betting Sony's future on mobile devices such as the Xperia smartphone, gaming and digital imaging, while developing new businesses, including a medical unit.

Sony has high hopes for its PlayStation Mobile gaming service, in which Vita plays a key role, and which will be launched later this year along with a range of new games.

Previously branded the PlayStation Suite, it will provide a platform for third-party software developers and publishers to create new content such as games for portable devices.

"Back in 2006-2007 people were saying PlayStation 3 is not happening, it's dead, but today it's a great platform, contributes bottom line to us. You need to look back 5, 10 years for these platforms to tell whether they are successful," Hirai said.

MORE PHONES

In Berlin Sony launched three smartphones and one tablet, all powered by Google's Android platform, saying patent challenges facing the software had not affected its business.

Sony Mobile chief Kunimasa Suzuki told Reuters he was confident of selling more cellphones in fiscal year 2012-2013 than the 34 million the company shifted in the previous year.

This would put Sony roughly on par with Google's Motorola, the eighth largest cellphone maker, which analysts expect to sell 37 million phones next year and well ahead of BlackBerry-maker RIM, whose sales are seen sinking to 28 million.

After Sony returned a record net loss of 455 billion yen ($5.8 billion) for the fiscal year to March 31, Hirai promised 10,000 job cuts and big cost reductions in the TV unit, which has clocked up losses of about $12 billion in the past decade.

Hirai said the group was ahead of plan to return the TV business to the black. "This fiscal year we will halve our losses from what we made last year. We are ahead of track."

Sony is also in talks with several companies which could be interested in its chemicals business, Hirai said. The unit makes materials used in consumer electronics products and employs several thousand people. He declined to elaborate.

As for other Japanese exporters, the strength of the yen weighs on Sony's results. The currency has become a safe-haven destination for many investors as debt concerns undermine confidence in both the euro and the dollar.

"The currencies are a real pain," Hirai said. We can complain about that, but it is the reality we have to face."

Since Sony's European sales account for a fifth of all revenue, compared with a tenth at both Panasonic Corp and Sharp, it is particularly sensitive to currency swings against the euro.

($1 = 78.7400 Japanese yen)

(Reporting by Harro ten Wolde and Tarmo Virki; Editing by Will Waterman and Giles Elgood)

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