As Sony Electronics Inc. was preparing to release its Internet television service last year, Comcast Corp. was so concerned about the competition that it refused to have discussions with Sony unless it revealed more information about its plans, according to an email thread published Thursday on WikiLeaks.
In a February 2014 email with the subject line “Comcast difficulties,” a Sony executive said the two companies had discussed bringing Comcast’s Xfinity app to Sony TVs, but that Comcast broke off the talks because it wanted more information about a Sony initiative then referred to internally as “SEN TV.”
“Currently, Comcast is telling [Sony Electronics] they will not have further discussions about Xfinity unless we ‘explain’ Sony’s plans for SEN TV, because ‘... SEN TV may compete with Comcast,’” the email said.
A year after that email was written, Sony launched its highly anticipated cloud-based television service, PlayStation Vue, which offers various bundles of cable channels but does not require a subscription to cable or satellite television. The service and others like it are seen as propelling a shift away from traditional pay TV and the bundled status quo that has been profitable for cable operators for more than three decades.
The 2014 email from Jonathan Pearl, executive vice president of legal and compliance for Sony Electronics Inc., was sent to Nicole Seligman, Sony’s general counsel. In it, Pearl outlined tensions with Comcast and said he hoped they could be “smoothed out.” A response from Michael Lynton, chief executive of Sony Entertainment, said the situation was “resolvable.”
A spokeswoman for Comcast declined to comment on the email thread. A Sony spokeswoman said the email thread is stolen property and that the company would not comment. The thread was part of a vast trove of company emails and documents hacked last year in a cyberattack that U.S. officials linked to North Korea, but one in which North Korea denied having any role. Last week, the emails and documents were made publicly accessible in a searchable database on WikiLeaks.
Pearl’s email highlights the degree to which Comcast may see emerging online TV services -- also referred to as over-the-top, or OTT services -- as a threat. Separate emails indicate that SEN TV was a much-discussed topic among Sony executives last year, but still a closely guarded project. One executive even blithely referred to SEN TV as Sony’s “cable” TV service, with the word cable in quotation marks.
In the email thread, Pearl mentions a 2013 meeting between Neil Smit, chief executive of Comcast Cable, and Phil Molyneux, then Sony’s chief operating officer, in which they discussed bringing the Xfinity app to Sony 4K TVs. The discussions did not progress, according to the email, and Comcast, vague about its plans for 4K, eventually released Xfinity on Samsung 4K televisions. The partnership between Comcast and Samsung had already been in the works for a few years.
Whatever misgivings Comcast may have about potential disruption from OTT services, they were not enough to prevent it from playing along to some extent. Sony’s Web TV service includes a number of channels owned by Comcast’s NBCUniversal division.