Those of us in the airlock/apologizing industry noticed an unusual blip on the radar this week shortly after the death of Whitney Houston. The epicenter was traced and determined to be sourced in Minato (Tokyo), Japan.
Ah, Sony! What have you done this time?
A lot of you may be under the impression that Sony makes overpriced electronics that break shortly after their warranty period. Yes, that’s true, but that’s only a small fraction of what they do.
MINATO, TOKYO, JAPAN — The motto, “Be Prepared,” is one famously associated with the Boy Scouts movement. It also encapsulates the thought that you should be ready to “do the right thing at the right moment.”
It’s a philosphy shared by Sony Music Entertainment (SME) company and their secretive elite unit known as the Death Immediate Response Team (DIRT). When a big name celebrity in the Sony music library dies, that’s when the deceased is designated a “featured artist” and the members of Team DIRT leap into action.
In order to be prepared, SME-DIRT has identified their artists who have achieved sufficient sales volume. They have then compiled detailed “death response plans” on those they artists they have identified as meeting their proprietary criteria selection scheme.
Whitney Houston was one of these artists. Her death on February 11, 2012, came as a surprise to most. But as the news spread like wildfire across the internet, plans were already afoot in Minato. Like most death response plans SME-DIRT has on file, there is a three-pronged approach:
- Have an office party complete with cake (in the likeness of the artist) and ice cream and party hats. During this symbolic process they literally eat their artist.
- Immediately jack wholesale prices on albums in the library.
- Summon high-level Sony executives to a summit in New York City to discuss strategy to capitalize on the artist’s death.
Within hours of Whitney Houston’s death, a faceless operative on a nameless Tokyo street walked away from his noodles, pulling an Xperia ™ Ion LTE (Long Term Evolution) smartphone from his coat pocket, dialed a number from memory, waited three seconds, said, “Operation Bodyguard. Initiate. This is not a drill.” He then faded away as he side-stepped into street level sewer fog and disappeared into the noises of the murky city at night.
Early Sunday, the price of one of the albums, “The Ultimate Collection,” jumped 60 percent on iTunes in Britain, from $7.85 to about $12.50; another album, “The Greatest Hits,” also jumped in price, from about $12.50 to $15.67 (or 25 percent). According to a report in The Guardian, the change was the result of the label’s decision, in the immediate aftermath of Ms. Houston’s death, to raise the wholesale price it charges digital retailers.
Source: New York Times
As people became aware of the price increases, the social media world began to buzz. Soon criticism against Sony and their pricing changes mere hours after Whitney’s death began to surge across social media networks. Sony, however, remained mum.
Saturday: Whitney Houston dies. Sony raises prices on two Whitney Houston albums on the iTunes store in Britain.* Internet criticism of pricing decision begins. Sony remains quiet and does not respond to criticism. When contacted by The Guardian, Sony “declined to comment.”
Sunday: Sony remains quiet and does not respond to criticism.
Monday: Sony remains quiet and does not respond to criticism.
Tuesday: Sony issues a statement. “Whitney Houston product was mistakenly mispriced on the U.K. iTunes store on Sunday. When discovered, the mistake was immediately corrected. We apologize for any offense caused.”
Wednesday: Still unsure of who initiated the price hike, Sony executives are claiming that the increase was a result of “an error by a Sony employee in Britain” and insists that “the company gave no such order.” (Source: The CelebrityCafe.com)
That last one is subtle. While using both sides of their mouth at the same time, they just said they didn’t know who did it, but it was a Sony employee in Britain. But yeah, we don’t know.
*Note: I’ve seen news reports claiming the price increase was within “hours” of Whitney’s death, but I haven’t been able to find precise information. I tried. I did find one fellow who said it was within “30 minutes” but that is unconfirmed.
30 minutes is response time to be proud of!
Meanwhile, in another part of the galaxy, it is now widely reported that while denying they were greedy following the death of Whitney, Sony “executives” are now heading to New York City to “set plans” on how best to capitalize on their catalog of Whitney Houston music. Not even done lying about the price increase yet but the wheels are already in motion. They see dollar signs just like they did after the death of Michael Jackson which has been described as a “perfect storm” for Sony. Oh, those were the good old days. Remember the profits!
Sony Music executives will meet this week in New York to determine a strategy for marketing the nine albums, soundtracks and compilations that feature Whitney Houston, the pop singer who died on Saturday at age 48, according to two people familiar with the plans.
Executives will also discuss stepping up marketing efforts for the upcoming film “Sparkle,” a low-budget movie starring Houston that will be released in August, and for the accompanying soundtrack on which she sings two songs, added one of the people with knowledge of the conversations.
Houston’s death is the second in three years for a top-tier Sony Music artist. In 2009, following Michael Jackson’s death, the New York-based company aggressively marketed Jackson’s prior albums, selling more than 8.2 million in the U.S. and more than 35 million worldwide, according to Billboard.
Source: The Vancouver Sun
Whitney isn’t quite the same draw as Michael Jackson but Sony still stands to make a lot of money. It comes down to power over the catalog:
Unlike Michael Jackson, who controlled much of his music, Houston did not enjoy a very large share of the revenues from her work. Sony’s Legacy Records owns the catalog of her albums, and pays Houston, or her estate, royalties for her singing. Houston did not write her hit songs, and doesn’t share in the revenues for publishing rights.
Source: The Vancouver Sun
I’ve often pondered the strange marriage of Sony and ethics. Curious, I went to the source to see what they had to say on the subject:
About Sony Group >CSR > Compliance
Ethical business conduct and compliance with applicable laws and regulations are fundamental aspects of Sony’s corporate culture. To this end, Sony has established a Global Compliance Network comprised of the Compliance Division at the corporate headquarters, a global compliance leadership team, and regional offices around the world; adopted and implemented the Sony Group Code of Conduct; and set up Compliance Hotline systems through its Global Compliance Network — all in order to reinforce the Company’s worldwide commitment to integrity and help assure resources are available for employees to raise concerns or seek guidance about legal and ethical matters.
Note: This paragraph is on a website page that has a SONY logo and the words “make.believe” just below. Hahaha! I get it!
Sony first caught my eye in the controversy surrounding fake critic reviews they published for some of their piece of shit movies. When some of their movies were universally panned by critics, Sony responded in the only honorable and ethical way they could. They thought up the name of fake newspaper and invented a movie reviewer right out of thin air. His name was David Manning of the Ridgefield Press. For some strange reason, unlike his peers, Mr. Manning always found something good to say about Sony movies.
Sony was also the company that used Sony employees posing as movie theater patrons to give pretend comments in television commercials promoting the movies.
The interesting part is that Sony never saw anything wrong with the practice and only stopped because it was sued. Sony did not apologize and claimed that their marketing activities were “fair exercise” of “free speech.” They ended up settling out of court by offering $5 each to people who had seen the movies they had lied about. Of course, the settlement included the now-famous phrase “no admission of fault and/or guilt.” (Paraphrased.)
Yeah, that’s unethical in my world. But is it enough? What else you got, Sony?
Lo and behold, it’s Sony Music Entertainment again, this time in a payola scheme:
Former New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer prosecuted payola-related crimes in his jurisdiction. His office settled out of court with Sony BMG Music Entertainment in July 2005, Warner Music Group in November 2005 and Universal Music Group in May 2006. The three conglomerates agreed to pay $10 million, $5 million, and $12 million respectively to New York State non-profit organizations that will fund music education and appreciation programs. EMI remains under investigation. The largest independent firm headed by Rick Hendrix of the Rick Hendrix Company was cleared of any wrongdoing and became the only promoter reinstated with full rights.
Source: Wikipedia – Payola
Thanks to the internet we can get a peek into how this actually worked:
A collection of memos from a promotions VP is absolutely amazing in its audacity. Some choice bits are:
- “What do I have to do to get Audioslave on WKSS this week?!!? Whatever you can dream up, I can make happen!!!
- “Looking for a laptop for promotion on Bow Wow.”
- “I’m a whore this week, what can I say?”
Particularly humorous was a memo complaining that the staged women who were calling in to a request show weren’t exciting enough.
“As for Saturday nights, you need to rotate your people. My guys on the inside say that it’s the same couple of girls calling in every week and that they are not inspired enough to be put on the air. They’ve got to be excited. They need to be going out, getting drunk, or going in the hot tube [sic], or going clubbing… you get the idea.”
Sony isn’t the only one doing this, and Spitzer is now taking aim at Vivendi, Warner and EMI. I hope he nails them all.
Source: ars technica
Next time you think about plunking down your hard-earned money for any kind of product or service, be it a piece of electronics hardware a movie or a song, that will eventually land in the wallet of Sony, you better think twice about who you are dealing with. This is a company on record that truth doesn’t matter, that makes no bones about it, and refuses to apologize, yet claims that “ethics” are part of the culture.
Watch carefully, people. It’s time for the non-creative types, people who add nothing of value to the system or society in general, to cash in big while the creative person of value gets the shaft.
I’m pretty sure the word “sony” when properly translated means: You can’t fake class.