Hacker attacks are the symbol of weakness at much too-big Sony

They do things differently in Japan, where else would you find a company like Yamaha that makes both motorbikes and pianos successfully?

But the once-mighty Sony has become a truly rambling conglomerate, rather like Philips in Europe used to be but more so, chasing a commercial turnaround by gambling on what it thinks is the next big thing.

Sometimes it is, like Playstation or even Bravia TVs, but it never seems big enough or profitable enough to dig the whole corporation out of the mire. Sony pioneers the sector and the copycats move in.

At the moment Sony is bedevilled by rather nastier cats, hackers who seem to be able to penetrate its online security with ease.

The company is still trying to recover from an attack on its Playstation network that it reckons will cost it over £100m and now a group called Luiz Security (they have a sense of humour anyway) claims to have penetrated Sony Pictures’ online offering, nabbing a million unencrypted customer details.

Sony may just be unlucky of course, hacking is a fact of life these days. Even the supposedly fireproof Apple has suffered a recent virulent attack.

But you just get the impression that the empire is too diffuse and rambling for even its capable CEO, Welshman Sir Howard Stringer, to control.

The sensible thing for Sony to do would be to sell off some of its businesses and concentrate on being either an entertainment company or (better) a technology company. But they don’t do things this way in Japan or indeed the Far East.

Samsung in South Korea is an even more rambling conglomerate than Sony but has the key benefit of a rapidly-growing home market which Sony unfortunately does not.

Sony recently reported a £2bn annual loss and this year is hardly looking any better. Hackers and the Japanese tsunami can hardly be ignored of course. But its problems lie rather deeper.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.