The new PSN: What is the Sony Entertainment Network?
6th Feb 2012 | 17:27
We gamers may think of ourselves as occupying a space at the cutting edge of digital entertainment, but we can be as resistant to change to as anyone.
A case in point is the general head-scratching which has been taking place since Sony announced that it will rebrand the PlayStation Network (PSN) as the Sony Entertainment Network (SEN).
This didn't come as a massive surprise to us, since in October 2011, we received a briefing on the SEN from So Saida, senior director of global business strategy and development at Sony.
So what is the SEN?
The Sony Entertainment Network is simple enough to explain: it's a banner under which Sony can group all of its digital entertainment services - which encompass games, music and video - in one place. In other words, it's Sony's stab at creating something which isn't too dissimilar to iTunes.
The SEN is a recent construct - it soft-launched in August 2011 and went properly live three months later.
Saida explained the general philosophy behind its establishment: "In the last few years platforms have become more consistent with the introduction of tablets, smartphones and other devices. Consumers have now caught up and they are saying, 'Why should I do this?', or, 'Why should I do that?' What we are aiming foris to bring all this digital content into one place so that the users are able to access the best-of-the-best content from one place on any device."
Strands of the SEN
Initially, that meant cleaning up and reworking several of its existing digital services. Thus its cloud-based music service, Qriocity, morphed into Music Unlimited, while the PlayStation's Video Network movie rental system was merged with all the video content apps available on Sony's Bravia Connected TVs (including the likes of the iPlayer, YouTube and Sky News), re-emerging as Video Unlimited.
The company's third strand of digital content delivery was, of course, the PlayStation Network (incorporating the PS Store). Which from now on shall be known as the SEN.
So, when all the dust-clouds thrown up by the rebranding have settled, the idea is that, whatever your Sony device - PS3, PS Vita, Sony Ericsson Android phone, Sony Tablet, Sony Vaio or Bravia TV - you'll be able to access the Sony Entertainment Network, and the personalised digital content within in it that you have paid for or rent, using one username and password.
Why rebrand now?
Sony hasn't said so specifically yet, but we suspect that the fact that the announcement of the PSN-SEN rebranding comes so soon after the widely expected confirmation that Kaz Hirai will take over from Sir Howard Stringer as Sony's President is far from coincidental.
The SEN is very much Hirai's brainchild. Indeed, SCE President and CEO Andrew House offered an insight into Hirai's big project when we interviewed him at the PS Vita's Japanese launch:
"Sir Howard Stringer decide to reorganise the company back in April this year. He decided to take all the consumer businesses and house them under one single leadership - my boss, Kaz Hirai." Clearly, joined-up business is Sony's new watchword, especially now that Hirai is taking over the reins.
What will it mean?
To existing PSN users, the rebrand shouldn't mean that much in practical terms - you'll still be able to access the PSN as before, using your existing user details (which we all updated after the PSN hack, didn't we?), except that it will be called the SEN, and you'll notice some different visual branding.
The exercise, clearly, is primarily about generating awareness of the SEN and as such, it's quite a clever (if brutal) exercise: Sony undoubtedly hopes that now all we owners of the PlayStation variants are SEN account-holders, we'll start checking out some of the other services available underneath the brand umbrella. And it makes sense to have what was the PSN as the initial point of entry to the SEN, as it (and particularly the PlayStation Store) is the closest thing Sony already has to iTunes and the App Store.
Are the other SEN services compelling?
Right now, it has to be said, they vary somewhat - unsurprisingly, given that they haven't been around for long. Sony has been a tad remiss in taking so long to get them going, too, as it is one of the world's leading entertainment content-generators, with Sony Pictures and Sony Music in particular.
But of the SEN services on offer, Music Unlimited is by far the most appealing. It's cloud-based, so will inevitably suffer endless comparisons with Spotify, which has a massive head-start on it. But it certainly conforms to the ethos of the SEN, because whatever device you use to access your account, you'll get the same experience. It has a pool of over 10 million tracks, and an accompanying Music Sync app that trawls your PC for tracks you already own, then adds them to your Music Unlimited library. Subscription will be £3.99 per month or £9.99 for the Premium service.
Video Unlimited is rather less appealing. It forces you to download movies, at which point you can then stream them from one Sony device to another. You can opt to rent or buy, at different levels of resolution, but it isn't as attractive as the likes of LoveFilm - which itself is available on various Sony devices under the SEN banner.
Where is it all heading?
The overweening motivation behind the SEN is to generate more profit for Sony, by encouraging its consumers to commit more zealously to Sony hardware and content - in other words, to get them to act more like Apple consumers. The spectre of iTunes hovers over the SEN - but you can't blame Sony for wanting to emulate iTunes' success.
As gamers, we should accept the PSN rebranding with good grace, simply because it represents Sony getting its house in order. And a healthy, profitable Sony means better games for us - particularly now that Kaz Hirai, with his games-centric background, is about to take over the running of the whole shop.