Tokyo - Top Panasonic
corporate executives, led by president Fumio Ohtsubo, took on a roundtable of
70 international journalists the company invited to CEATEC, to discuss vital
industry issues it and the CE industry are facing.
While 3-D HDTV was on the top of the question list, there were plenty
of other issues to tackle: Blu-ray recorders in the U.S.,
the upcoming holiday selling season and possible company stores in the U.S.,
energy use, among other topics. Some responses were blunt, but others were
typically diplomatic, keeping with the culture of this company and nation.
Appearing along with Ohtsubo on Wednesday morning were Hitoshi
Otsuki, senior managing director; Ken Morita, senior managing partner and
president of AVC Networks Company; Yoshiyuki Miyabe, executive officer in
charge of digital network and software technology; and Takumi Kajisha, managing
executive officer/corporate communications.
Morita was asked about the prospects for the holiday sales season
and if Panasonic would consider opening stores in the U.S. due to the departure of Circuit City
from the marketplace.
"In the U.S.,
Panasonic large-screen TVs have been strong in 55-inch, 65-inch and other
large-screen sizes," Morita said. "Growth in large-screen sales will continue.
But price competition will be very competitive as usual."
Morita added that Circuit
City's exit from the U.S. market is like a major
manufacturer leaving, but that Panasonic is "focusing on expanding sales
channels, accelerating them in specialty shops where they explain products more
And while Morita can't predict 3-D TV sales, he wants Panasonic
to present itself as "the industry's 3-D leader." Responding to a question
about IPTV, he said, "Demand will increase ... there is now two-way
communication via the Web and social networking. We will try to increase that."
Kajisha was blunt about the rebranding of the company to
Panasonic worldwide and how it can get a higher profile with consumers.
He said that the rebranding program has improved "gradually" and
that "a strong brand must have competitive products like Apple's iPod and Sony's
Walkman. Home 3-D HD could be that breakthrough product for Panasonic." He
added, "In order to do that, we must build brand reputation by building ad
spending, and use social-media networks like You Tube, Twitter and talk with
Miyabe was asked if the potential success of 3-D HD down the road
may open up Panasonic, with help from Hollywood,
to offer Blu ray home recorders in the U.S. in the future.
Miyabe said that while there may be "a good business in Japan," there is no market for it in the U.S.
"Our marketing people think there is no need for it in the U.S.
given IPTV, TiVo [and] digital video recorders there now. [In the analog era]
VHS was the only video recording device [for the home]. But that's not true
right now," Miyabe said.
Otsuki was asked if R&D spending was badly cut by Panasonic
and other CE makers this year due to the recession.
He maintained that "every department has been hurt in this
environment, and R&D is no exception. Spending cuts have been made in a
wide area, but we didn't cut 20 percent across the board. [The potential] Sanyo
acquisition is important to us. It is very good technology, but we can't say we
can't do it. We made cuts in various areas, but we were selective."
Ohtsubo said that the recent European Union approval of the Sanyo
acquisition only shows that "local governments are the final decision makers on
this, not Panasonic. We hope the [final approvals] do not take too much time."
In his opinion, while standard catalog energy usage ratings of
plasma vs. LCD shows that plasma uses slightly more energy, "when you consider
all the data, usage is virtually the same."
When asked if a typical family might be able to afford a 3-D HDTV
next year, Ohtsubo noted, "TV is still king of home entertainment, especially
as a big screen in the living room. After major introductions of big-screen
sizes [in] 3-D, eventually we will get to smaller-sized screens for the den,
the bedroom, the kitchen."
He added: "In the beginning you will need glasses. In the future
you shouldn't need them. That is the challenge we have presented to our
engineers, and we are always challenging them."
(For more from CEATEC, visit www.TWICE.com
as well as Steve Smith's Viewpoint blog.)