Sony agrees sale of its US HQ, plans to attack TV market with 4K Ultra HD models

Sony has confirmed plans we reported last week to sell off its landmark US headquarters building on New York's Madison Avenue.

The company hopes the deal can be completed by the end of March: the 37-storey 'Chippendale' building's sale, to a group of investors, will raise $1.1bn for the company.

It follows the recent decision to sell the Sony City Osaki property in Tokyo, headquarters of its TV division.

But TV operations will remain at the heart of the restructuring plans put in place by Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai (left), according to a press briefing he gave yesterday in Tokyo.

Its TV division has long been a problem for the company, and is expected to clock up its ninth successive loss-making year when 2012-13 figures are in, but now Hirai says that 'Starting next year, we will go on the offensive' in the TV business.

He said the company will endeavour to increase its share in emerging markets, particularly India, and will aim to make 4K Ultra HD TVs a major part of its overall TV development strategy.

In other words, as Sony stressed at its CES 2013 press conference, its intention in mature territories is to 'Wow' consumers with new products, developing premium-priced models rather than getting involved in the price-slashing end of the market.

But while Hirai noted Sony's advantage when it comes to promoting 4K TVs – it has its own movie studio, Sony Pictures, to make the 4K content to show on them – he acknowledged that it may take several years, or maybe even as long as a decade, for 4K TV technology to get a foothold in the market.

In addition, Hirai is looking to new smartphones, such as the Xperia Z (below) and ZL, to help turn the company around by grabbing market-share from the established market-leaders.

Sony phones are outsold about sixfold by South Korean giant Samsung, but Hirai is upbeat: 'I believe we still have a lot of room to grow,' he said, noting that again the company will be aiming at the high-end phone buyer in the hunt for profitability.

Read about the new Sony Xperia Z flagship smartphone

'We basically are out of the feature-phone business and in the Android-based smartphone business,"he said, adding that 'We are more in toward the high end of the market as opposed to trying to get into the commoditised portion.'

However, some concerns have been raised about this policy. It's feared that, particularly in the TV market, 4K technology, if its establishes itself, will quickly become commoditised.

In other words, it'll raidly stop being a premium proposition and become the kind of product you can buy everywhere, with the attendant impact on pricing.

And while rapidly-falling prices are good news for the consumer, they don't do much for TV manufacturers struggling to make up for past lost profits when both 3D and smart functions have failed to keep TV prices high for too long.

Read about Sony's new 4K Ultra HD TVs

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Andrew has written about audio and video products for the past 20+ years, and been a consumer journalist for more than 30 years, starting his career on camera magazines. Andrew has contributed to titles including What Hi-Fi?, GramophoneJazzwise and Hi-Fi CriticHi-Fi News & Record Review and Hi-Fi Choice. I’ve also written for a number of non-specialist and overseas magazines.