Welcome to TV’s 5th Wave

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Chinese TV maker TCL, which has proclaimed itself the world’s third largest TV manufacturer (not necessarily third-largest brand, however), recently announced pre-order Amazon availability of its latest U.S.-bound, Roku-imbued not HDR/WCG entry-level UHD entries, which range in price from $600-$1,100.

It’s springtime, so these new model introductions aren’t unusual in the TV world. But TCL’s demos were accompanied by bold pronouncements that the company planned to be a top three brand (not just manufacturer) in both the U.S. and globally in short order.

China’s number one television supplier, Hisense, held a press briefing at CES in which it proudly flaunted its big trophy: the Sharp TV business it bought last summer. In addition to a borderline ridiculous 47 Hisense- and Sharp Aquos-branded 4K and 2K models it planned to flood the market with this year, Hisense announced its own pretentions to ascend to the number 3 vendor in the U.S.

The seemingly outsized aspirations of these two Chinese TV vendors, along with those of country kin Skyworth, Haier, Changhong and Konka, have triggered a bit of TV market déjà vu. Even though DTC pegs each of these Chinese brands at less than 8 percent market share of the global TV market, they all represent what may result in a fifth wave of country-dominated TV suppliers. And each wave bears some of the same strategic hallmarks Hisense and TCL are each deploying.

TV Marketing Genesis

In the beginning, post-WWII, were the American brands, dominated by RCA along with Zenith, General Electric, Admiral, Westinghouse, DuMont, Sylvania and Philco, to name a few.

But in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Japanese suppliers began to threaten U.S. brands. Initiating a trend that other countries would follow, these Japanese suppliers started as entry-level alternatives to established premium brands, competing primarily on price. Some acquired an well-known label in an attempt to more quickly launch themselves. As each Japanese brand gained market share, each then slowly pivoted to establish a premium presence.

In 1968 in the U.S., Japanese brands represented 11 percent of the market; by 1976 it was a third. But Zenith and RCA remained the dominant global TV brands throughout the 1980s and early 1990s.

Surprisingly, the second dominating wave of TV suppliers came not from the U.S. or Asia but from Europe, utilizing the purchased brand-name entry strategy. Philips, which acquired the Magnavox, Sylvania and Philco brands in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and Thomson, which bought the RCA and GE TV businesses in 1988, were the leading global TV suppliers for a short spurt during the mid- to late-1990s, and established a trend by soon bumping their bought brand labels.

It wasn’t until the turn of the new millennium that Japan Inc., in the form of Sony, Panasonic, JVC and Toshiba, usurped not only Zenith and RCA in the U.S. but the European suppliers as well to become the dominant global brands. These Japanese suppliers held sway for around a decade.

At the end of the 1990s, however, the Koreans began to make their presence felt. While Samsung eschewed buying an established brand name, its competitor GoldStar changed its western-style name to LG, then invested, deployed and then predictably dumped the Zenith brand over the course of five years, 1995-1999. By the end of the 2000s, these two Korean companies dominated global TV sales by, as usual, morphing from low-end to premium suppliers.

In many ways, this shift in country TV domination roughly parallels TV’s technology waves from black & white to color (U.S. suppliers), from CRT to rear projection to flat screen (European suppliers), from plasma to LCD and from standard definition to high definition (Japanese and (to a lesser extent Korean suppliers), to UHD (Korean suppliers).

And now, the Chinese are following the Europeans, Japanese and Korean game plans – start at the low end to compete on price and gain share, adopt then abandon established brands, then pivot toward premium. TCL already has passed one milestone by jettisoning the proud but badly used RCA brand name it bought in 2003 then sold in 2010 to ON Corp. in favor of its own, and will soon announce higher-end HDR/WCG-enabled 4K sets, likely this summer.

Hisense, meanwhile, along with its share-grabbing entry-level model dump, bought Sharp to establish its premium bonafides. Given what’s happened over the last half century of TV selling, it shouldn’t be a shock to see Hisense eventually let the Sharp name slowly fade into tech historical obscurity as it attempts to establish a premium position under its own brand name.

Whatever differing economic or market forces may be at work during these varying country-dominated shifts, history may well repeat itself with Hisense, TCL and their Sino compatriots. In a few years, these Chinese brands could climb as high as their proclaimed aspirations, taking their generational place at the top of the TV supplier market until – Turkish brands?

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Many of the brands Stewart Wolpin writes about here are no longer made and marketed by the brand owners. This represents a whole other wave of how the TV business works today. Over the last decade many factors have led to an expansion of brand licensing in the global TV market. The table below highlights only a handful of these brands that are now being licensed. To learn more about this trend and practice, read our free white paper Brand licensing in today’s global marketplace.

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