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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.
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