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Vizio snags No. 2 spot in flat screen TV sales in 4th quarter of 2008

Once again, the Irvine company's holiday season performance shows it can compete with big dogs like Sony and Samsung with value-priced sets.

February 21, 2009|Alex Pham

Oops, Vizio Inc. did it again.

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

At the time, Vizio, led by industry veteran William Wang, was able to exploit a lull in shipments by the two electronics giants as they prepared inventory for the more important second half of the year. Since then, Vizio had floated between the No. 4 and No. 6 spots.

But a report issued Friday 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 Corp.

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," said Riddhi Patel, an iSuppli analyst.

During the fourth quarter, Samsung shipped 20.2% of TVs in the U.S., according to iSuppli. Following were Vizio with 14.3%, Sony with 13.5% and Panasonic Corp. with 10.7%.

The gap between Vizio and Sony is less than 1 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 in North America for the fourth quarter, with 14.2%, 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 Corp., 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. Pioneer laid off an undisclosed number of workers at its Long Beach office.

Dutch manufacturer Royal Philips Electronics made a similar move last year, handing over its U.S. TV business to Japanese manufacturer Funai Electric Co., 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.

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alex.pham@latimes.com

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