Saturday, February 21, 2009

Vizio overtakes Sony as No. 2 flat-panel TV seller in U.S.

Oops, Vizio did it again.

The scrappy Irvine television company caused heads to turn in 2007 when it became the No. 1 supplier of flat-panel sets during the second quarter, much to the dismay of more established players such as Sony and Samsung.

At the time, Vizio, led by industry veteran William Wang, was able to exploit a lull in shipments by Sony and Samsung as they prepared inventory for the more important third and fourth quarters. Since then, the company had floated between the No. 4 and 6 spots.

But a report issued today showed that Vizio again upset the TV industry's world order during the last three months of 2008 -- the key holiday shopping season. It snagged the No. 2 spot among the nation's biggest flat-panel TV suppliers, according to iSuppli. The El Segundo research firm said Vizio's rise showed that value-minded shoppers had opted for its sets, whose prices generally undercut the competition.

"This is an indication that in the present tough economic climate, consumers are becoming less brand conscious and prefer televisions that they perceive to have good picture quality and that are less expensive compared to the competition, rather than seeking models with a lot of extra features," said Riddhi Patel, an iSuppli analyst.

Here are the market share figures for the number of TVs shipped in the U.S. for the fourth quarter, according to iSuppli:

  1. Samsung: 20.2%

  2. Vizio: 14.3%

  3. Sony: 13.5%

  4. Panasonic: 10.7%

  5. LG: 10.6%

It's worth noting that the gap between Vizio and Sony is less than one percentage point, which makes it a very close call.

If shipments to Canada are included, Sony vaults back to No. 2, according to DisplaySearch. Last week, that consulting firm placed Sony at No. 2 for the fourth quarter, with 14.2% of the North American market, and Vizio at No. 3 with 12.3%.

One thing on which both research firms agree: The television market, which suffered brutal price cuts during the holidays, will continue to face punishing economics this year. The strain was too great for Pioneer, which ...

... last week announced it would exit the plasma TV business. Though it had less than 3% of the plasma market, according to DisplaySearch, Pioneer commanded respect from custom installers of high-end home entertainment systems. That area was considered very lucrative until late last year.

Dutch manufacturer Royal Philips Electronics made a similar move last year, handing over its U.S. TV business to Japanese manufacturer Funai Electric, which licensed the Philips brand to sell TVs and other electronics in North America.

Other marginal players that lack either a strong brand or enough capital to ride out the storm could also cut bait in the coming months, said Paul Gagnon, an analyst with DisplaySearch. "This year is going to be ugly," he said.

-- Alex Pham