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CES 09: LBP sells 1.3M, PSN logs 17M accounts

Little Big Planet and PlayStation Network milestones revealed during Sony CEO Sir Howard Stringer's flashy keynote; EA newest Home partner, combined PS3/PSP user base broaches 61 million.


LAS VEGAS--Typically, keynote addresses at the Consumer Electronics Show are either celebratory or boastful. Chances are, the Sony keynote address will be a bit of both. First, it's being delivered by Sir Howard Stringer, the first Western-born CEO of Sony and arguably its most affable. Secondly, it comes as Sony is heavily touting its PlayStation 3 console, which saw sales increase 40 percent in 2008 and 130 percent during the last 10 weeks of the year.

However, with reports of a "sweeping" restructuring imminent at Sony, it's hard to remember the last time a cloud hung so heavily over a CES keynote address. (The closest thing was Toshiba's non-keynote HD-DVD presentation last year, which was canceled when the sudden withdrawal of movie-studio support doomed the format.) What has gamers particularly worried is a British report earlier this week that claimed "sacred cow-killing" changes could be afoot at the Tokyo-based company. To many, the most divine bovine in the electronics giant's barn is Sony Computer Entertainment. Despite growing revenues and a return to profitability, the division has yet to recoup the billions it spent researching and developing the PS3 and PSP, both of which lag far behind their rivals in terms of overall sales.

Fortunately, CES may provide Sony with an opening to stir up gamer enthusiasm. As the sun rose over the neon-kissed Las Vegas skyline, thousands of journalists gathered to hear Stringer speak at the Palazzo ballroom at the Venetian Hotel and Casino. The night before, many of the same reporters had heard Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer emcee a presentation that was almost completely devoid of gaming revelations. Will Sony give gamers similar short shrift? Check back around 8:20 a.m. PST for a live blog of the conference.

[8:23] In a replay of last night's Microsoft conference, thousands of suited VIPs and less well dressed hoi polloi mill about as rock music blares.

[8:23] One difference: Every seat has a pair of Real-D Cinema 3D glasses on it. Guess we're in for some 3D action today...

[8:24] The music goes down and...a huge Sony logo pops up.

[8:25] Oh boy, a preview for the forthcoming comedy Paul Blart: Mall Cop starring Kevin James from King of Queens.

[8:26] From Happy Madison productions--apparently Adam Sandler isn't ruining only his own films anymore.

[8:26] And it's coming out in January, the traditional dumping ground of unwanted cinematic orphans...

[8:27] And a crotch shot with a Segway--watch out America's Funniest Home Videos!

[8:27] Another movie preview, with Rosario Dawson talking into a webcam. Titled Gemini Division.

[8:28] The SONY logo comes up--and here come the games...

[8:28] Usual rocking montage: PSP up first, with footage of Force Unleashed and Madden NFL. I remember those games--they came out last year.

[8:30] LocoRoco 2 footage, NBA 09: The Inside, Super Stardust Portable (looking very Geometry Wars-ish)...

[8:30] Patapon 2, looking very Patapon-ish and Buzz! Master Quiz--PSP demo ends.

[8:31] "Ladies and gentlemen of the press, please restrict your flash photography to the first 60 seconds of the keynote."

[8:31] Lights dim, cueing up a CES self-promotional reel.

[8:32] 2,700 exhibitors this year, says a title card, accompanied by more prog-rock flavor-of-the-month soundtrack.

[8:32] Apparently CES is at the Venetian--we know, we're sitting in it.

[8:33] Stragglers scramble for seats as the promo reel finishes.

[8:35] Another promo reel--this one tongue-in-cheek. "A Rising Economy Production." CEA head Gary Shapiro is dressed up as Groucho Marx in an outtake from Duck Soup.

[8:35] "This is the world economy is on the way!" Way to stay positive.

[8:36] Now the economy is being portrayed as the Frankenstein monster, with Shapiro as the not-so-good doctor. "It's alive!" Yes, we get it.

[8:36] Now he's CG'd into an old-time Western, with him and John Wayne urging people not to quit. Is this a press conference or a pep rally?

[8:37] Shapiro is CG'd into a colorized version of It's a Wonderful Life, and apparently the new economy is coming in Q2 2009.

[8:39] Shapiro now appears in person, looking only marginally more lifelike. Actually, the clips were from a new service called Yoostar, which puts people into old-time movie clips. Get it? YOU STAR! How many millions did a marketing guy get paid to think that up?

[9:02] Shapiro now introducing Stringer by recounting his days working as a journalist for CBS.

[9:03] From working the phones in the Ed Sullivan show, he went on to win 31 Emmys, becoming CBS's president and convincing David Letterman to come over to the network.

[9:03] "We are pleased to have the chairman and CEO of Sony Corporation, Sir Howard Stringer, here with us today."

[9:04] Down come the lights...and it's more movie previews with a look at the Da Vinci Code prequel Angels & Demons, starring Tom Hanks.

[9:05] More religio-supernatural pseudo-suspense, coming May 15.

[9:05] Oh crap, Tom Hanks is here.

[9:06] The movie star gets up onstage and proceeds to mock Shapiro's presentation by pacing as the executive did. "I will now repeat his entire presentation," jokes Hanks to thunderous laughter.

[9:06] "The only reason I'm here is because of Betamax. I got VHS instead, what was I thinking?"

[9:08] The first Sony product he saw was a "reel-to-reel tape machine the size of a Singer sewing machine." He now complains he has stacked up so many Sony products in his living room that his Blu-ray player is eight feet in the air.

[9:10] "Now on to the scripted part of my presentation," jokes Hanks before stiffly reading marketingspeak off a teleprompter. The crowd laughs hysterically at his ad-libs. "You, the evil geniuses of the CES!"

[9:11] Now he's straight up mocking Sony. "Every time I go on set, I see Sony on the camera--no wait, I have never seen that!...When I read books, er, sorry the Sony Digital Reader at night...Sorry, I should have read this copy before I agreed to come onto stage."

[9:12] Hanks met Stringer back when he was a documentary filmmaker and calls him his friend.

[9:14] Out comes Stringer, and Hanks walks him around the stage. Stringer: "Now the only reason I showed that Angels & Demons clip was so I could bring Tom back."

[9:14] Hanks: "Well that, and you keep putting these appearances in my contract."

[9:15] He now dons a pair of glasses that allow you to "watch television on the glasses while still seeing the real world."

[9:16] Hanks makes fun of the stage directions and then the glasses. "Oh look, they're so cool and hip."

[9:18] More good-natured banter--and least it is supposed to be good-natured--follows, with Hanks finally begging him not to put a hold on his paycheck.

[9:18] "No, Howard, don't cast me into that Samsung hellhole! I don't want to live by Sanyo's rules! Save me, you're a knight for God's sake!" jokes Hanks as he walks offstage.

[9:18] Stringer deadpans, "This is the third time I have done this, and it may be the last."

[9:19] Then, it was on to business.

[9:19] Stringer talks about how Sony's predictions of wireless proliferation and Blu-ray dominance have occurred, despite the economic downturn.

[9:19] "We have to make our products must-haves at affordable prices," says Stringer.

[9:20] Stringer is now introducing rules for the electronics industry to live by.

[9:21] Products must be multifunctional and be as easy as possible for the consumer to use.

[9:21] Sony thinks supporting open technology is key, as is advancing the shared experience for consumers.

[9:22] Another rule: to create new value chains, as when the purchase of an HDTV leads to a Blu-ray player or PlayStation, and then Blu-ray discs and games.

[9:22] Oh, and go green.

[9:22] Also, embrace fusion of industries.

[9:23] The shining example of this: the PlayStation 3, which offers Blu-ray playback, shared experiences with games, and value via PlayStation Network purchases.

[9:24] By 2011, 90 percent of Sony products will connect to the Internet wirelessly--and connect to each other wirelessly.

[9:25] Stringer now talks about Bravia motion-graphics technology and video Internet link, as well as the world's thinnest television.

[9:25] In the spring, several high-end Bravia models will be able to link to the Internet directly and download films.

[9:27] A new Cybershot camera will be able to upload photos directly to the Internet via AT&T for free--to prove it, he shows photos of himself and Hanks already on the Web via a Web-enabled Bravia TV. Synergy, thy name is Stringer.

[9:27] Now it's on to...alarm clocks!

[9:29] A new Sony alarm clock will be a touch-screen video screen, which can wake you up with music videos via services like Pandora.

[9:29] It also can display news you want to wake up to, local weather, and even clips from the previous night's sports games.

[9:30] The clock will be open platform, allowing developers to create their own apps.

[9:31] Onto OLED TVs, which Sony pioneers.

[9:32] Sony now has made them so thin they're flexible. Stringer introduces the video by playing a Beyonce Knowles clip on the display and then bends it. "How many people get the chance to squeeze Beyonce?" he jokes. "I sure hope Jay-Z isn't in the room."

[9:33] Next up: Blu-ray, which provides a viewing experience that Sir Howard says is "second to none."

[9:33] Sales are up four times over last year, powered by titles like Wall-E and The Dark Knight.

[9:34] "Some have asked why, in a networked world, we need Blu-ray?" To prove his point, he brings out Pixar chief John Lasseter.

[9:35] After joking about his loud shirt, Lasseter says Blu-ray lets audiences "see what we see on our screens at Pixar... You can't go back once you see it."

[9:36] "We sweat over every tiny detail, and Blu-ray lets you see that." To prove his point, he shows a Wall-E clip.

[9:39] Lasseter then talks up Blu-ray Live and shows how the Sleeping Beauty menu reflects the weather and time of day where users are.

[9:39] He also shows a game embedded in Cars that you can play while watching the movie on Blu-ray.

[9:42] Lasseter says that Pixar is already planning for 3D movies on Blu-ray, and he leaves by showing a clip from the forthcoming movie Up!

[9:44] Stringer returns and thanks Lasseter and Bob Iger at Disney for sticking by Blu-ray. Stringer expresses his excitement for Toy Story 3, due out next summer. Pixar is also remastering Toy Story and Toy Story 2 in 3D and will release them in theaters this summer.

[9:44] Finally, to the games!

[9:45] The PSP and PS3 "user base" is 61.3 million, says Stringer, before introducing SCEA prez Kaz Hirai. It is unclear if that means individual accounts or individual hardware units.

[9:45] Hirai takes the stage, cheery as ever.

[9:46] "Play. Listen. Watch. Communicate. Create. Share. These are the experiences consumers want, and this is what they want on the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable."

[9:47] SCEA's big push is networked content and services in the form of the PlayStation Network. 17 million accounts on the network, with 330 million pieces of content downloaded.

[9:47] 2.1 million PSN accounts added in the last month alone.

[9:47] Enter the Sackboy!

[9:48] Hirai talks up Little Big Planet, which has sold 1.3 million units worldwide.

[9:48] Some 300,000 levels have been created, with a total playing time of two years.

[9:48] "This experience is possible only on the PlayStation 3."

[9:49] Hirai now talks about Sony Online Entrainment and its new free-to-play title, Free Realms, for "tweens, teens, and families."

[9:49] Beta sign-ups are now open on the PC, with a PS3 version to follow.

[9:50] Sony video delivery service is next on the docket. Hirai makes much of the fact that videos downloaded on the service are both portable and viewable on full-sized TVs.

[9:50] MTV is now partnering to put its video content on PSN.

[9:52] Now for a quick demo of Life With PlayStation, the virtual-globe news and weather service that lets you zoom in on a city and find out what's happening in said city. Hirai checks the headlines in Munich, Germany, to prove it.

[9:52] An update is coming to Life With PlayStation this spring.

[9:52] Hirai pivots the agenda to PlayStation Home, which has been downloaded by 3.4 million people.

[9:53] $1 million in goods sold via Home, which now has EA as a partner.

[9:53] EA is crafting a new space for Home, which will be revealed later.

[9:54] SCEA is now shifting the way it thinks about its hardware design to better serve customers.

[9:55] That's it for Hirai, who walks off to much applause.

[9:55] Stringer retakes the stage to talk care.

[9:56] A new show starring Oprah's Dr. Oz will premiere in syndication in the fall, focused on keeping viewers healthy.

[9:56] It's titled Ask Dr. Oz.

[9:56] No wait, just Dr. Oz--and the doctor is apparently in, since he just walked onstage.

[9:57] To show the problem of obesity, he shows Michelangelo's famed sculpture David rocking a massive beer gut.

[9:58] Health tip: Your waistline should be half your height.

[9:59] He measures Stringer's waist, which is 39 inches--meaning he should be 6' 6".

[10:00] Dr. Oz explains how evolution designed people to put on weight, not lose it.

[10:04] Dr. Oz exits, and Stringer gets up onstage to talk about Sony's partnership with the Yankees on Yankee Stadium.

[10:05] He brings ex-Yankee Reggie Jackson onstage to talk about the new stadium. Instead, he waxes poetic about the old Yankee stadium.

[10:06] Then he says he's excited about the new technology room at Yankee Stadium 2.0.

[10:07] Now the pair discuss stats and how to fool pitchers.

[10:09] Stringer produces a Reggie Bar candy bar and bids Jackson farewell.

[10:10] As the crowd thins out, Stringer talks Sony's eco strategy.

[10:11] Sony is working on a sugar-based battery and phones made out of 100 percent recycled plastic.

[10:12] Wrapping up, Stringer introduces a 3D digital short by Pixar.

[10:13] Everyone dons the 3D glasses and watches the short, which puts the characters of Cars in a Tokyo Drift-like street race.

[10:15] Stringer then shows a still from Gran Turismo 5 rendered in 3D. "You've never seen the game like that," he says.

[10:15] No word on whether the game will be in 3D when it comes out.

[10:16] Dreamworks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg comes out to tout 3D.

[10:16] He equates 3D to the introduction of color and sound in film in terms of importance.

[10:17] "This is not your father's 3D," he says, donning some old-time 3D glasses.

[10:19] The Big K thinks that 3D will reenergize film audiences, and Dreamworks Animation has completely retooled its production line to make 3D movies.

[10:20] A 3D clip of monsters and aliens is shown.

[10:21] In it, a 50-foot woman battles a huge monster using cars as roller skates to escape across the Golden Gate Bridge.

[10:22] The giant alien smashes the bridge with its robotic claws.

[10:23] The GG Bridge collapses and the lights come up. Katzenberg thanks the audience and Sir Howard.

[10:24] Katzenberg exits.

[10:25] Stinger moves on to Sony's Grace Notes music service, which works on Sony Ericsson phones.

[10:26] Stringer pulls out a Vaio Laptop "lifestyle PC," which fits in a pocket.

[10:27] Now it's time to talk about Sony Music, formerly Sony BMG until Sony bought out Bertelsmann AG's share last year.

[10:28] Awww yeah, ladies, time for an Usher music wait, it's Usher himself!

[10:29] The R&B artist does his best to act seductive, even though the vast majority of the audience is middle-aged men hammering away on their Blackberries.

[10:31] He's even got backup singers and a Spanish guitar player. As of press time, no panties have been thrown onstage.

[10:31] Usher finishes, exits.

[10:33] Actually, he's sticking around. "Who better to close the show?" says Stringer. Usher, however, won't leave the stage.

[10:34] He heaps praise on Sony Ericsson for sponsoring his tour and repeatedly drops the phrase "Sony Products."

[10:35] Prodded by Stringer, Usher laments the end of the album era and expresses wishes for the recovery of the music industry.

[10:36] Quickly wrapping up, Stringer urges the audience to imagine the future after the current economic downturn.

[10:37] Quoting the late Gordon McKenzie, he says, "If you can imagine it, you can make it real."

[10:38] "We at Sony are trying not to think anything is impossible."

[10:38] And that's it!

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