LAS VEGAS - Satisfied in relative terms with 3D adoption in 2010, Panasonic will aggressively use the format this year to promote the brand.
This is just one of the categories that Panasonic is focusing on for its consumer business, and its B to B business, to achieve future growth and increased profitability.
In discussing 3D TV's sales performance in 2010 and if Panasonic was satisfied, Joe Taylor, chairman/CEO of Panasonic Corporation of North America, quipped, "We would be disappointed if we sold five times the amount we sold last year."
But he quickly added, "Some said 3D had a lower adoption rate than other new technologies. In a practical sense, in the nine months 3D was available last year, more sets were sold than in the first six years of HDTV."
Taylor said, "More content would help. That's why we partnered with DirecTV last year on 3D. Discovery will be created 200 more hours of new content. Our expectation is that there will be a lot more programming available. Three forms of content drives 3D in this order: movies, and Hollywood is working on more and more releases; gaming, which is a little simpler to produce than movies; and sports."
Shiro Kitajima, president of Panasonic Consumer Electronics, noted that last March the company introduced the first 3D TV at retail but, hindsight being 20/20, they should have done a few things differently.
"We thought consumers would understand 3D. Some thought you could only watch 3D and not 2D programming. Consumers didn't understand why they had to pay extra for 3D Blu-ray titles vs. standard Blu-ray, DVD or downloads. Our communication was not good enough initially."
But he noted that once demonstrations were held in stores, more content became available, and more consumers saw it, "people saw the value in the technology."
By the fall when Panasonic sold bundles with "Avatar" and 3D glasses, Kitajima said, "3D became a lot bigger part of our business" and helped Panasonic generate double-digit overall TV sales gains by the end of 2010.
And he noted that 3D camcorders and cameras will help TV sales in 2011. "Last year we introduced a pro and consumer 3D camcorders," and training on the pro side helped sales there. On the consumer side its unit debuted in early October "at a $1,300 retail price. We sold over 4,000. They may all be early adopters but we have expanded the line for 2011" with the lowest street prices going well less than $1,000.
"All the channel partners we are talking to are talking about 3D. It can help the camcorder business that has been competing against smartphones that provide 2D standard-definition images," he noted.
Taylor said Panasonic's strategy for 3D was to claim it as its own to build its brand image in the U.S.
"We are a 100-year-old $100 billion company and one of the world's technology leaders with more patents applied and granted than anyone. If you said Intel is a tech leader to a consumer, they'd say sure. Panasonic? They would question it."
Taylor bluntly said, "We are a world-class manufacturing and technology company. But in marketing we are poor. We must change the brand image in the U.S."
Panasonic has been using 3D to do just that. "We want to get credit for building and designing the best TVs and the best 3D TV in the marketplace."
He noted that at International CES in 2009, "we said we would have 3D TV in 2010 and we were laughed at. Last year's show we said we would be at retail and partner with DirecTV."
Taylor said with 3D "Panasonic took a leadership role. We got great buzz and great consumer recognition."
By the end of the year the company got sidetracked "in just moving boxes," in Taylor's words. "But we did sponsor the U.S. Open Tennis tournament and Major League Baseball. We must do a better way of sustaining our initial marketing effort."
What Taylor wants Panasonic to do this year is promote "four tent-pole events like the U.S. Open to spotlight 3D, promote content and promote our brand."
When asked if the popularity of smartphones and tablet PCs will take over the top spot in CE from TVs, Taylor said, "I don't think ancillary devices will replace the screen that is the centerpiece of the home. These devices want to tap into the entertainment you can see on the bigger screen. What we need to do to make it easier for consumers to move content around the home and in these devices and make it simple, without memorizing a product guide."
When asked if Panasonic is interested in introducing a tablet PC, Taylor candidly said, "We care about tablets and smartphones, but we're behind a lot of catching up to do."
He said that Panasonic does have a tablet in its B to B Toughbook PC line, "but the sales for that market is not overwhelming."
Taylor did stress, "It is absolutely important for us to have a tablet" for the consumer market, and added, "I wouldn't be surprised if we would have one at next year's CES." As for whether it will feature 3D: "It is too early to say."