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Sharp Revives Elite Brand For LCD TVs

2/07/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern

MAHWAH, N.J. — The Pioneer Elite brand is returning
to flat-screen TV.

Pioneer announced that the U.S. subsidiary for
Sharp Electronics will license Pioneer’s Elite brand
for a line of high-end LCD TVs to be introduced in
the U.S. and Canada this year.

Currently, Pioneer uses the Elite brand to market a
line of high-end audio/video receivers, Blu-ray Disc
players and speakers, but gave up using it on TVs
after it dropped the acclaimed Kuro HD plasma category.

Model details, pricing and availability were not
disclosed by Sharp at this time.

Sharp hopes that by adopting the brand for highend
LCD TVs, it will be able to expand distribution of
its premium large-scale TVs into high-end specialty
A/V dealers and other accounts with assisted sales
floors.

Pioneer said it will gain by adding large-screen
LCD TVs to the market to complement its Pioneer’s
Elite home-theater components.

The Elite line of LCD TVs will be jointly marketed
by Sharp and Pioneer, and will be available through
Pioneer’s authorized Elite dealer network, the companies
said.

Sharp holds an equity investment in Pioneer, and
the companies spoke of the possibility of eventually
using the Kuro brand for some Sharp LCD. The use
of the Elite badge was somewhat surprising.

In a recent DisplaySearch blog, Paul Gagnon,
North American TV research director, said, “for
Sharp, the deal opens up a third brand it can use (in
addition to Sharp and Aquos), and one that offers
higher channel margins. It is also well-suited to the
larger displays that Sharp is now focusing on in the
U.S. market.”

“TV brands have been trying to figure out how
to market to what is becoming a bifurcated retail
market for TVs: high-end specialty retailers offering
deep margins but small volumes, and large national
(or semi-national in the case of hhgregg) retailers
that deliver large volumes but have slim margins and
place intense pressure on brands for price concessions,”
Gagnon said.

Tamaryn Pratt, Quixel Research principal, said
the licensing deal “is great news for the dealers if
the brand will truly be sheltered. They are craving a
product that is not widely distributed. It is very hard
for brands like Runco and NuVision to stay relevant
to OEMs at those limited volumes.”

Pratt said the Elite label will give “Sharp’s salespeople
a new chance to talk about Aquos TVs as
well was front projection. At one time Sharp was the
leader in home theater front projection. They have a
new 3D projector that is launching in the spring so
this should give them a new audience and possibly
a way back into projection in a meaningful way.”

As for any possible pushback Elite A/V specialists
might have to LCD after having pitched the advantages
of plasma for so many years, Pratt said:

“The videophiles may complain and trash LCD
TVs … but opportunistically, this way they can at
least leverage the strong brand awareness for
Pioneer at the high end of the market, which they
helped build.”

She also said that recent stride taken by Sharp
and others to improve LED-based LCD TV picture
quality gives dealers a new story to tell.

“My understanding is that the new TV designs
have been well received and there is genuine excitement
from dealers,” she said.