The Oscars were a non-event this year for Sony - the studio took home only one gold statue - but Sir Howard Stringer was in town with plenty to celebrate. The globe-trotting Sony Corp. chief was fresh off his company's triumph in the high-stakes, high-definition video player wars. On Feb. 19, Sir Howard was en route from Tokyo to London to attend a movie premiere and then a party for his 66th birthday when Toshiba held a press conference announcing that it would stop producing its less expensive, Microsoft-backed HD DVD players and would cede the battle to Sony-led Blu-ray.
It was somehow fitting that Sir Howard's next stop on his world tour would be Hollywood, because it was here that the Blu-ray battle was ultimately won - Toshiba only threw in the towel after the Warner Brothers studio decided last month to stop releasing its DVDs in both formats and to go exclusively with Blu-ray. The victory was not only crucial to proving Sir Howard's strategy of showing that Sony's entertainment, electronics and games businesses could work together but - perhaps more critically - helped exorcise the ghosts of its failed Betamax videotape format that has haunted the halls at Sony for two decades.
"I was a pain in the ass on this," Sir Howard told me in his office on the Sony Pictures lot. "Because of the Betamax experience, we made it clear to everyone that this was a Sony corporate mission."