Foreward: I write many posts from the voice of the “every man,” thinking that if something is an issue or problem for my company in South Carolina, it is likely something that you are also dealing with in Any Town, USA. In the case of this post, my business partner and I were very frustrated with the current inventory situation for several Sony 4K televisions. (Very rarely does he suggest that I should write about something going on in our business.) And if you are a Sony dealer, then I’m sure you’ll understand what I’m talking about. After venting about my frustrations in the following post, Residential Systems editorial director, Jeremy Glowacki, wisely reached out to Sony for a comment. The reply he received from the company’s VP of audio/video specialty/custom integration, Frank Sterns, goes a long way toward alleviating that frustration. No, it doesn’t put any more TVs in my store right now, but it does explain what it’s going on and further enforces Sony’s commitment to our channel. It also goes to show how crucial a good line of communication is between partners. Had Sony relayed this message to dealers in the manner that Sterns did, it could have helped head off some of angst. If you’ve been frustrated with Sony lately, I’ll think you’ll appreciate this post and Sterns’ response at the end.
“So we finish the eighteenth, and he's gonna stiff me. And I say, ‘Hey, Lama. How about a little something, you know, for the effort.’ And he says, ‘Oh, there won't be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness. So I got that goin' for me. Which is nice.” —Bill Murray, Caddyshack
Three-and-a-half years ago I wrote a post titled, “4K from the Lens to the Living Room,” which touted the various ways in which I felt Sony was uniquely poised to really reestablish itself as a market leader in the bold, new, 4K world. At the time, the company had one of the very few—if not the only—4K products on the market, the wallet-buckling VPL-VW1000ES projector.
I also posited how Sony was in the very unique position among TV manufacturers of actually owning a movie studio along with movie post-production facilities and a movie distribution arm. And that the company has been creating and mastering much of their work in 4K resolution (and beyond) for years, thus creating—and owning—the content so desperately needed for these UHD displays.
Further, at a time when many people were foretelling the death of physical media, I was predicting that we would see the disc rise like a beautiful, ultra-high-resolution Phoenix in a 4K incarnation, pointing out that according to Sony’s Digital Audio Disc Corporation, the company has “15 manufacturing, 18 distribution sites, and 11 digital service centers around the globe,” and that “Sony DADC offers the highest capacities in media production and distribution.” Ergo, Sony has the facilities ready to manufacture 4K discs—you know, filled with their own theatrical 4K content.
Finally, as I write this nearly 1,300 days later, Sony still has the only true 4K video source available for purchase, the company’s FMPX10 Ultra HD Media Player.
Additionally, Sony finally seems ready to really make this bold and aggressive 4K push into living rooms by pricing two of its new 2015 C-series models at pricing that makes buying a similar-sized 1080p set seem almost silly. At $799 for a 43-inch and $999 for a 49-inch—with both sets touting the company’s new better, stronger, more powerful X1 processing engine for terrific upscaling—the company is making UHDTV ready for primetime. And these popular sized TVs have been a real hit with consumers and a hot commodity for dealers.
A recent screen capture from the online Sony Store
How hot? Well, my company has had some on order for more than a month, as have many other dealers, apparently. My rep tells me that there are more than 400 on backorder of both models. And Sony’s distribution arm for the custom channel—Tech Data—received a whopping seven of them in the last shipment.
Inventory stats for Sony's XBR43 via Tech Data
Things happen, forecasts are missed, products run out, right? What can you do? But the thing that makes this particularly galling is that you and your customers can waltz on over to Sony’s own website, Sony.com, and order these TVs to your heart’s delight. Both are shown as in stock and ready to ship. But not just at Sony.com. They are also available at Best Buy. And for the ultimate insult, you can even buy the sets at Walmart.
Walmart's Sony inventory
So when you tell your customer that, “Boy, I sure am sorry that we found the perfect TV for you at a great price, but it looks like it won’t be able to get it much before August,” they are likely either going to A) Bail on the deal or B) Go somewhere else and buy it.
This seems to be another case of our industry being treated as the red-headed stepchild. (For the record, I like redheads just fine, and I’m sure that most—if not all—of our industry gingers do, indeed, have souls, even Nick Brown at Caster Communications.) Companies seem to be more than happy for us to be the ones to bring in, demonstrate, explain, establish, and justify the pricing on premium, cutting-edge products, helping to part our early adopter, enthusiast, and wealthy clients from their cash. But when the segment takes off, many seem just as ready to move on and glut the market through Big Box channels. Sure, we can still sell the product and scrape off the gleanings of whatever is left over after the Big Box harvest comes through and grabs up all the first fruits, but it it’s more like we are just the extra layer of icing on an already sweet cake that they can mostly take or leave.
In truth, I really can’t blame Best Buy or even Walmart. But WALMART! Why, in the name of the ISF gods is the hallowed XBR line available at Walmart? They place orders, they get the sets. In fact, good on you electronics’ buying teams at both companies, for being savvy enough to forecast your needs for these sets.
No, I can’t blame those guys. My blame is 100-percent with Sony for not recognizing our channel as a valuable partner and for not directing inventory to fill our needs. Because whereas those tractor trailer loads going to Best Buy’s and Walmart’s mainly represent potential sales, the orders from our channel are most all actual sales. At the very least, Sony could take all the models available for sale at its own website and transfer them to their distribution arm to cover the hundreds of backorders for sets we have already sold.
So, Sony, how about a little something, you know, for the effort? Until then, I guess at least we’ve still got your protected ES line going for us. Which is nice.
Frank Sterns replies:
I have spent my whole career in the specialty/CEDIA channel developing the market for premium products and supporting the specialty dealer. I continue to do that every day in my role at Sony. Truth be told, the CI channel is receiving more than double the amount of product it did a year ago and it has received the lion’s share of the new 43- and 49-inch XBRs. Did it receive every unit made? No. Just most of them.
The CI channel has embraced Sony CIS to an extent that I could never have predicted. It seems double the amount of product is only about half of what we needed. There is more coming soon, but we ran short. For this, I apologize. I should have forecasted more. But rest assured, I am not shy about representing the needs of the CI channel to Sony, and Sony is serious about supporting the CI channel.
I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t so.
John Sciacca is principal of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.