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An August 2nd Reuters news story said that Sony is preparing to overhaul its LCD television business to reduce costs and attempt to remain competitive against the likes of Samsung and LG. That means selling off TV factories to Chinese companies such as Foxconn Technology (manufacturers of the iPad) and moving more and more to a Vizio-style rebranding model.

 

Sony’s TV business has lost money for eight consecutive years, which about as long as Sony has been selling Bravia LCD TVs. The company cut its sales forecast for the current fiscal year by 19% to 22 million units, and now there is talk among analysts of the possibility that Sony might exit the TV business altogether – something that is almost inconceivable, given Sony’s long involvement with television.

Three words: Wake. Up. Call.

But the facts are hard to argue with. Ever since Sir Howard Stringer took over at the helm six years ago, Sony Corporation has lost 50% of its market value. According to the Reuters story, Sony is currently valued at just $25 billion, less than 25% of the market valuation of Samsung.

 

Over the years, pursuing profitability in the TV business has led Sony to form an alliance with Samsung (S-LCD), announce plans to take a 34% investment stake in Sharp’s Gen 10 LCD fab (later pruned back to less than 10%), and search high and wide throughout Taiwan and Hong Kong to find a competitive source for the smaller LCD panel TV sizes that still dominate the market.

 

Sony’s initial TV strategy was to position themselves as an Apple-like brand, getting people to pony up a premium for a perceived advantage in Sony product quality and engineering smarts. Trouble was; it was all too easy to surf the Internet and discover that smaller Sony LCD TVs were being sourced from many of the same manufacturers as 2nd-tier LCD TV brands.

 

Sony’s “own the manufacturing chain” business model was blown out of the water by Vizio, the ultimate OEM TV partner, who spent millions of dollars in advertising and went for the jugular with aggressive pricing in wholesale clubs and discount outlets. And of course, Samsung is responsible for much of Sony’s misery, given how aggressively the Korean TV giant followed its ten-year blueprint to become “the next Sony.”

 

It doesn’t help that 3D and Google TV have done little to stem the losses. 3D TV is still struggling to gain widespread acceptance and will likely become just another option built-in to all future TVs; one that cannot command a premium.

 

Google TV is even more of a bust. If you’ve ever had a chance to use the remote control for Sony Internet TVs, you’ll know why: It’s complicated and intimidating to use. People like the idea of watching Internet-delivered video, but they don’t want to search for it with a computer-like interface.

Seriously - Who thought THIS was a good way to watch TV?

To make matters worse, the Sony name doesn’t command respect like it used to.  Interbrands’ annual survey of global brands places Samsung 15 places above Sony. That is mind-boggling, given the strong brand equity Sony used to have.

 

The Reuters story states that Sony could lose close to a billion dollars this year in its TV operations, and that would push total losses to almost $5 billion since 2004. So the question is – how long will Sony continue to spill red ink?

 

One obvious solution to the problem is for Sony to wash its hands of TV manufacturing completely and instead license the Sony name to a line of OEM TVs, much like Kodak is doing these days with digital cameras and photo frames.

 

There is a precedent: Earlier this year, CE manufacturing giant Philips threw in the towel on its TV business, citing increasing losses and an inability to remain competitive even on its home turf in Europe. Going forward, Philips has licensed its brand to Funai for all future Philips LCD TV manufacturing.

 

By following this model, Sony could finally achieve profitability in the TV game. Ironic, isn’t it?

Posted by Pete Putman, August 8, 2011 8:02 AM

About Pete Putman

Peter Putman is the president of ROAM Consulting L.L.C. His company provides training, marketing communications, and product testing/development services to manufacturers, dealers, and end-users of displays, display interfaces, and related products.

Pete edits and publishes HDTVexpert.com, a Web blog focused on digital TV, HDTV, and display technologies. He is also a columnist for Pro AV magazine, the leading trade publication for commercial AV systems integrators.