By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Plasma, plasma and more plasma. That is the key technology on which Panasonic Consumer Electronics' two top executives, Yoshi Yamada, chairman/CEO and Martin Kono, president/COO, will continue to place their emphasis in the immediate future.
During an interview with TWICE at its booth during International CES, here, earlier this month, Yamada and Kono said they see Panasonic's continuing investment in plasma television, whether it is manufacturing, technology or expanded marketing of the brand, as the key to the company's growth in the United States over the next several years. (See related story, p. 1.)
They also see plasma television as the centerpiece of the coming “HD lifestyle” that will encompass HDTV and digital home networking of the present and near future.
Here are some of Yamada and Kono's views, first about Blu-ray and its competition vs. HD DVD, then plasma, Panasonic branding and some other issues.
TWICE: Why have many Blu-ray suppliers during CES, including Panasonic, not provided specifics on when the first players will be shipping, price points and features?
Yamada: We have to take an aggressive approach, but this is not a 100-meter run, but a long journey.
Kono: As far as Blu-ray is concerned, Sony's PlayStation3 will have a Blu-ray drive and shipments of Blu-ray computer drives and blank discs are ready.
Yamada: Blu-ray is important, not because of a format competition. It is important because it provides HD content. Most of our focus is on plasma TV. We really believe that HDTV is the future with 1,080p. Plasma, with HD content, will be the center of the living room, the center of entertainment in the home. [With Blu-ray] there are two other ways to enjoy HD — [data] storage and, of course, movies. Altogether they can realize the HD lifestyle.
TWICE: What would you say to those who are undecided about buying or backing either Blu-ray or HD DVD?
Yamada: It is simple to say, just buy Blu-ray.
TWICE: When will HD camcorders be part of Panasonic's consumer line?
Kono: An HD camcorder for consumer use will be brought to the U.S. market next year. [In December 2005] we introduced a professional model. A year ago only large broadcasting companies could afford a few. Now, with prices coming down, small stations and the like can afford the technology and produce more HD content. That is a drastic change.
TWICE: In the past couple of years Panasonic has embarked on a strong consumer advertising campaign. How has that progressed in 2005? What have been the results?
Yamada: Last year we really began to see positive results in our brand image and are proud of our efforts. [But] we are still not where we want to be, so we will enhance our efforts and become even more aggressive. I think we are perceived as a plasma TV company, but we want to be considered a flat-panel company. [For smaller screen sizes] a new technology for LCD screens is IPS (in plain switching). I don't want to use the term “LCD” anymore when discussing this type of product. I prefer IPS.
TWICE: What is your view of how business will be in 2006?
Yamada: We see another good year for flat panel with the market getting larger, and more products coming in. Unit price will go up as [suppliers add] more features and larger screens. In 2006 there will be more HD over ED product available. We want to see more consumers accept HD, and we expect our competitors to go after larger screen sizes.
We have the technology and are one of the front runners in the market. As far as we are concerned, HD is the name of the game.
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.