This week, long-time Sony executive Alec Shapiro will take on his new role as president of Sony’s Professional Solutions Group. The promotion is part of a number of moves at Sony that include Toshihiko Ohnishi’s move back to Japan where he is now deputy president of PSG.
Shapiro has been instrumental in launching several Sony professional formats and technologies during his 13 years at Sony. He has led Sony’s extensive efforts in the 3D and 4K digital-cinema revolution across North America. Ohnishi, meanwhile, will continue to globally expand Sony’s professional business, identifying new growth opportunities in strategic market segments.
“I am personally excited about the opportunity,” says Shapiro. “I’ve been employed at Sony for more than 13 years, and in the industry for more than 30, so it’s great to get the recognition. But it is also a very exciting point in time in the company’s history.”
Shapiro takes over during an interesting time for the industry, which has had its struggles with what role next-generation technologies will play (specifically 4K and 3D) while grappling with the business implications of new distribution platforms.
That market “confusion” also requires some simplification of processes within manufacturers and vendors. For example, in recent months, the company has begun breaking down internal product and market silos that often would make a multi-discipline purchase (eg. scoreboard technology, security cameras, digital signage) a more complex process than required within Sony.
“While externally the purchase is transparent to customers, internally it was like dealing with two different companies,” says Shapiro. “So now it is much easier for us go to any type of sports facility and really do a turnkey A/V solution, from the security cameras to A/V infrastructure, control room technology, LED boards, consumer displays, and more.”
Shapiro says making those broader buys simpler, both inside and out, will benefit Sony for one primary reason: it is the only company currently in the market with a product and technology portfolio that provides all the necessary components.
“Most of our customers in sports have had little awareness that we are also a provider of security systems, and a lot of it was because our sports sales team was not representing those products,” adds Shapiro. “Now they will be representing all of Sony.”
Within Sony, the broadcast and production teams have had the most market success and Shapiro says one of the goals is to replicate that success in other markets, like education, houses of worship, and more. Sony will also bring key customers in those markets to Japan to help with product design and development so that Sony can better meet market needs.
“Overall, the health of the market is great and it has never been better,” Shapiro says of the broadcast and professional market. “It’s changed a lot and there are a lot of exciting new challenges. The need for information has exploded and even the typical sports fan going to a baseball or football game wants to be connected to track fantasy teams and more. And despite the explosion in content distribution, the ratings of TV networks and stations are doing just fine and they aren’t losing audiences.”
One of the new market hot topics is 4K, the content creation and delivery system that will offer an image with four times the resolution of HD. Shapiro says that Sony is excited about the potential for 4K.
“We think we are well positioned to deliver a lens-to-living room 4K experience,” he says. “And we’re getting into other areas like asset management and have some exciting new technologies coming out in that area as well.”
The biggest challenge, for both Sony and nearly all other broadcast manufacturers, is to help the marketplace separate the buzz about a new product category from the reality. Three years ago, 3D hit the consumer-electronics market in a big way, and it was expected that consumers would buy 3D sets and embrace the technology despite the fact that only a handful of people had any real-world experience producing 3D, the workflows were unstable and difficult, and costs associated with those productions would dwarf traditional productions.
Shapiro was involved with the first demonstration of HD in 1982, and he quickly points out that it took almost 16 years for it to become a reality in homes, and that during that 16-year period, there were plenty of naysayers who would say HD was always going to be three years away.
And now there is 4K, a technology that, on the consumer level, could mean a glasses-free 3D experience or an advanced-resolution 2D experience. The question now is whether the buzz saw of public opinion — where the goal is to offer an immediate thumbs-up or thumbs-down on whether or not the technology has a long-term place in the market — will give 4K a chance.
“Just because 4K will be shown at CES does not mean there should be an immediate explosion in 4K content. There was a rush to judgment on 3D where the industry expected an explosion of 3D content and everything was going to go 3D,” he adds. “Obviously that hasn’t happened, but 3D is evolving pretty much the way it should evolve. Companies like ESPN have made a phenomenal amount of progress in how to produce 3D, and the number of 3D-capable sets in the market is significantly high. And at some point in time it will all gel. And certainly the availability of higher-quality flat panels is only going to help.”