By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
SALT LAKE CITY – Todd Rytting, Panasonic’s new chief technology officer, said he expects the company to hold onto its consumer electronics acumen as it ventures into new business areas in the future.
Previously president and CEO of Salt Lake Citybased Panasonic Electric Works Laboratory of America (PEWLA), Rytting has added to that role the responsibility of overseeing and evangelizing in North America Panasonic’s key technology developments, replacing Eisuke Tsuyuzaki, who recently left the company to pursue other opportunities.
Rytting’s key strength was said to be in “engineering management,” with particular emphasis on energy management and device networking.
In a recent interview with TWICE, Rytting said that although Panasonic is evolving to keep pace with changing technology markets and conditions, consumer technology will continue to be the lynch-pin in its endeavors.
TWICE: You’ve been in your job a little over a month now, what is your top priority coming in as CTO?
Rytting: My first priority is to meld innovative technologies with innovative business models to create new solutions and services based on Panasonic’s existing technologies and products. [Panasonic president Kazuhiro] Tsuga, is clearly directing our company into solutions based on the incredible depth and breadth of technologies that we have. My job in North America is to push that forward. The company is looking at the North American market to be an example and a leader in that area.
TWICE: There’s been a lot of speculation about big changes possibly coming on the horizon. What do you see as the signature product categories for the company five years from now?
Rytting: We’ve developed a lot of expertise in manufacturing products, but today we need to move into doing more with those products. Our signature product categories will be selling mixtures of products — solutions built out of products from several different business units, rather than the business units focusing on their own product sales and that’s it ... You’ll see services and solutions based on the products that we already have, but I don’t think you’ll see a fundamental, discontinuous shift in direction, because with a company as large as Panasonic, that’s difficult. But you will see growth from new directions, and that’s a good thing.
TWICE: So, for the long-term, do you see the consumer electronics retail channel as your primary customer base?
Rytting: It will be one of them. Consumer technology is one of the things that get a lot of attention. But we do so much more, and one of the things that impresses me about Panasonic is its incredible depth and breadth of technology. So, in Japan, we make everything that goes into the building of a house except for the glass and bricks.
In consumer electronics we have several initiatives that we’re working on that are dependent on those same consumer- based technologies that we’ve been developing for a long period of time.
TWICE: Mr. Tsuga has said that Panasonic will not be getting out of the television business, yet he has an order that all of Panasonic’s businesses be made profitable. What are you going to do differently in order to generate profitability out of Panasonic’s video display segment?
Rytting: That’s a good example of how we are going to be leveraging some very core technologies that reach into other industries. One area where we are doing this very well is on the Avionics side of our business, where we provide in-flight display technologies for a number of the airlines. It’s interesting that that’s a B-to-B product but it reaches the consumer. Just recently we announced the world’s largest ever (14- inch) economy-class seat-back display. So, that’s a good example of how the video display reaches into business applications and also touches the consumer.
TWICE: Can the company continue to develop plasma technology enough to drive profitability?
Rytting: Plasma is very good at what plasma does. It’s OK to compare plasma TVs to LED TVs if you are buying a TV to match a certain set of criteria, but plasma does deliver certain things that a lot of other technologies can’t. If you concentrate on those things, there is a reason for certain kinds of plasma TVs. The company is going to con- Exclusive: One On One tinue to deliver added value to some of these products. There are a number of ways we can continue to improve the technology, and for a certain market segment I think it will continue to be successful. There are a number of areas where you can’t beat a plasma for its image, and that will continue to be a requirement. I think you will continue to see plasma TV as a part of our product portfolio for maybe a directed way that defines it.
TWICE: Smart TV is having a bigger role in the TV business and a developing trend has been second screen’s use. Where do you see Panasonic’s role in that trend?
Rytting: An interesting thing about the second screen is that a lot of the applications are not dependent on the screen itself but on the applications, broadcast medium and programming content. A good example of how Panasonic is innovating in second screen is in avionics, where handheld controllers, which have screens themselves and are in some cases wireless, are being used to control content on the seat-back screen as well as to order things, or communicate via Wi-Fi through the Internet.
TWICE: Do you have any recommendations for consumer electronics retailers looking to stay focused on what’s coming on the horizion?
Rytting: That’s a two-way street. I can tell you some of what I see coming from us, but also I welcome information from the CE industry on what they’d like to see coming from our direction. Of course we also listen to focus groups and customers, but CE retailers are a key piece of the equation. But I go back to what I said before. I see more integrated products, more connectivity, and services and features that leverage multiple products. In short, I think what you will be seeing is more connected products, more serviceability, and taking the information that’s available and using it in new and innovative ways to improve someone’s experience, lifestyle or usage.
TWICE: Another recent hot button related to smart TV has been consumer “cord cutting.” Panasonic has customers who are both consumers and cable operators. How do you approach that conundrum in your product planning?
Rytting: We have an innovative way that we are working on that addresses just that. I’m not at liberty to talk about it at this stage, but you’ve seen Panasonic come out with Viera TV and VieraCast and some of the other things that start to integrate network services with Internet services. And there are some things we are working on that provide another fundamental improvement in the way that consumers get and consume media content through their TVs. And it is pretty cool stuff.
TWICE: Of all the projects you are working on, what is the most exciting to you?
Rytting: As engineers we tend to get all caught up in technology and how things connect and communicate. One of the things I’m telling our engineers is, ‘Forget about technology. Concentrate on the information that is generated by the different products. Assume you have access to all of that different information. What are you going to do with it to improve somebody’s life or experience? How are you going to process it, analyze it, display it and present it so that you can increase the value of the product?’
That information, being the glue that binds all these different products together in new and innovative ways, is what I’m most excited about, because I think we will see a new era of service to people to improve.
This TWICE webinar, hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf, will take a look at what may be the hottest CE products at retail that will be sold during the all-important fourth quarter. Top technologies, market strategies and industry trends will be discussed with industry analysts and executives.