Nicola Brittain travelled to Madrid to hear how Sony’s international dealer network is responding to the massive changes in the broadcast technology market.

It sounded like an offer too good to refuse - a weekend away at a luxury hotel in sunny Madrid. But there was a catch: for myself and 300 accredited Sony dealers from across Europe who turned up at the Auditorium Hotel, it was that we’d be spending a lot of our time learning about Sony’s latest products rather than soaking up the sun.

I was along too, not just to find out how Sony’s network of dealers works but also to hear what the company and its dealers believe are the main needs of today’s producers and broadcasters. Being an accredited dealer for Sony is a demanding business. Following bi-monthly courses, dealers are expected to sit an exam testing product and format knowledge and how a product interfaces with software. If they fail, they must re-sit the test.

Accredited dealers
So this get-together, the third annual event of its kind, was a cross between a conference and a crammer designed to help dealers offer greater support to their customers. The objective is to sell more kit - and the best way of doing that is serving customer needs.

Sony’s Accredited Dealer scheme was officially launched in April 2006 and has contributed to a reduction in the number of UK Sony dealers from 28 to 12 over four years. It is widely believed that the accreditation process is more rigorous than that employed by other manufacturers with resellers. The old days when resellers were regarded as “pile ’em high, flog ’em cheap” businesses are over. The need for resellers in this B2B market is paramount, with high demand for specialist knowledge as the industry undergoes huge technological changes, such as the move from standard definition to high definition and tape to tapeless.

Mark Forth, sales director of accredited Sony dealer Mitcorp, agrees that rigorous training is required: “Customers considering a change from tape to tapeless need to have access to, and be able to rely upon, a dealer who can offer bomb-proof support and has the complete backing of the manufacturer.”

Specialist criteria
So what’s the selection process for the 12 UK specialist dealers in Sony’s scheme? Turnover, credit limits and market specialisation are all factors involved in selecting the companies.

Sony UK media channel and professional services general manager Mark Bainbridge says: “We are looking to achieve volume and value. This means we need large volume dealers who turn over lots of products as well as dealers who have a specific touch into a region or a type of end user, such as buyers in the education or creative market.”

Much of the growth in Sony’s professional solutions has been in HD and 68% of its sales in the European market are high definition (with standard definition a still significant 32%). The biggest selling line is the HD Camcorder followed by the HD videotape recorder. The single biggest selling product group in this division is the low-cost HDV Camcorder. These trends are broadly similar across the whole of Europe, which is steadily adopting tapeless formats.

At the Madrid event, Sony Professional Solutions announced aggressive growth plans on the back of an expansion in its product range. The expansion included products in the HDV segment, such as two interchangeable lens tapeless camcorders and the HVR-HD1000E, a tape-based camera targeted at the events and wedding market. These join the solid-state XDCAM EX camcorder, which was launched at IBC, in the low-cost market.

The company stated that it saw growth potential in the market for camcorders costing less than £5,000. Last year, of the total 210,000 units sold across Europe, Sony shifted 80,000.

Sony announced that it planned to increase its market share in this area and sees close partnership with its accredited dealers as the means by which it will achieve this growth.

Breaking with tradition
The division also said it would look beyond its traditional broadcast offerings. Marketing director of Sony Broadcast Solutions David Bush said: “We plan to increase our sales in our traditional markets, however we also see significant growth in archiving and low level news which is catered for by Sonaps.” Sonaps is a browsing, editing, playout and archive solution for newsrooms that has been taken up by Canal+ in France and Italian broadcaster RAI.

Aside from the bi-monthly conferences, tests and annual trips abroad as a vehicle by which Sony Professional Solutions can announce its broader market plans, the division also relies on other means. For Visual Impact, managing director John Quincy’s trip to the Sony factory in Japan was particularly helpful. He was shown a roadmap for the next generation of products as well as newer and emerging technologies. Visual Impact director Tim Sparrock said: “This type of information is critical for our business planning short and long term. For example we have a constant stock holding of some £2m to £3m and so it’s vital we know what products are being phased out, which are being introduced and when.”

Tracking sales data
Sony also wants very detailed sales in and out data from its dealership on a monthly basis. The sales-in details products bought by resellers, and sales-out data allows Sony to see how well the channel is selling and monitor market movements. Bainbridge said: “If we see that we are losing market share we would develop new products accordingly”.

Dealernet is an additional service for dealers offering product information and case studies to help demonstrate market adoption and usage and identify trends and opportunities. Similarly, they are offered discounts and promotions to encourage bulk buys and a range of finance services such as the recent 0% HD offering. Bainbridge said: “This scheme meant we could get HD products to market really quickly.”

The dealers rely on Sony to develop new formats with key broadcasters and facilities companies. Without this innovation their business fails. Similarly, the dealers must understand their markets and the products they are selling to enable them to provide the support. Visual Impact’s Sparrock says: “It’s paramount that we have products we can sell - they must meet the needs of an increasingly demanding and knowledgeable customer base which has more choice than ever before.”