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GE Brand Returns On New TV Line

Directors of the new GE and Tatung joint venture, General Displays & Technologies, have started visiting more than 30 leading retailers in an effort to bring the GE brand back to television sets in the second quarter of 2009.

“We’re on the road right now, meeting with all of our potential retail partners to discuss specifics on pricing, marketing and programs that we will use around the launch of our new lines, which will be on the shelf in the March/April 2009 timeframe,” said Peter Weedfald, GDT North America president and global chief marketing officer.

“I think it is very important that our retail partners will expect us to play at multiple levels of demographics, price points, and articulated features and benefits of the products,” Weedfald said.

The initial line, which will consist of three series of “premium-positioned” LCD TV sets, is planned to be distributed through a wide range of television retail channels, Weedfald said. All models will be designed for upgradeability, low-power consumption and slim-cabinet styling.

In addition, the company plans to deliver three set-top box options later in 2009 that will connect the sets to the Internet, cable, satellite and fiber-optic TV services to access new specialized content to be produced by GE subsidiary NBC Universal (NBCU), and others.

General Electric’s 80 percent ownership in NBCU will enable GDT to work with the media giant to develop open platform technology to deliver content directly to television sets, GDT executives told TWICE.

GDT is 51 percent owned by Taiwan-based electronics manufacturer Tatung, which makes sets for a number of global brands, and 49 percent owned by General Electric.

The company will have offices around the world including U.S. headquarters in Chino, Calif. It is directed by Weedfald and Marc McConnaughey, CEO, both having long histories in the CE display industry.

McConnaughey is a 29-year veteran of the global display industry, most recently serving as a founder and CEO of nLighten Technologies, a digital optics startup based in Shanghai, China. Earlier he was instrumental in building ViewSonic’s position in the display industry.

Weedfald is best known in the industry for his role as Samsung’s sales and marketing senior VP during the period that saw the company rise to the top of the U.S. television ranks. More recently, he had spent two years at Circuit City as senior VP and general merchandise manager for entertainment/content before being promoted to chief marketing officer in 2006.

Dormant on televisions since Thomson gave up its license in late 2004, the GE brand has been eyed by a number of Asian companies looking to a well-established name they could piggyback on to build U.S. flat-panel TV distribution businesses.

“In Fortune’s most admired companies of 2008, General Electric’s brand overall ranked No. 3 behind Apple and Berkshire Hathaway. In the electronics portion of that same study, the GE brand was ranked No. 1 as the most admired company in 2008, followed by Sony No.2 and Samsung ranked No. 8,” Weedfald said.

McConnaughey said Tatung will design and manufacture the products under GDT’s direction. The company will use “GE metrics in the design, manufacturing and quality of the products,” he said.

Although GDT is courting a wide range of dealers, Weedfald said the GE TV products will be premium positioned and will not be directed at the opening price point end of the business.

Initial TV products will be assorted in three series — GX, DX and TX — using a good, better, best merchandising approach. Each series will include seven to eight SKUs in screen sizes ranging from 19 inches to 65 inches, Weedfald said.

The company will stick solely to LCD display technology due to the power-consumption benefits as well as the technology’s greater ability to deliver innovative new designs, such as thinner form factors, McConnaughey said.

McConnaughey noted all GE models will employ an open cell structure that will enable changing the backlight. One model will offer LED backlighting, but more models are expected to include the technology in subsequent offerings.

All of the initial models will be designed to connect with forthcoming set-top boxes, which among other things will enable an Internet connection to access IPTV content. Later in 2009, the company expects to offer three different set-top box options to connect to the sets, each delivering different levels of capability.

The set-tops will also add a wireless audio option, using a proprietary 2.4GHz system that is said to be easy to use and set up. One set-top box model is planned to include a Blu-ray Disc player with BD-Live capability, according to McConnaughey.

“We are developing advanced, Internet capabilities for content delivery to televisions, without the need for a PC. This includes IPTV through cable, satellite and advanced fiber-optic television connectivity,” said McConnaughey. “The long-term strategy is to allow consumers to customize their viewing experience by downloading widgets and a variety of services directly to their HDTVs.”

For the “connected strategy,” McConnaughey said GDT is working with NBC U to solve problems associated with the scaling and compression of pixels.

“Working together with NBC we think we can make the pixels more perfect,” McConnaughey said. “You’ll be able to see implemented on your TV without a keyboard, remote or mouse involved, in a manner that similar to how you watch TV today.”

GDT will be meeting privately with dealers off site at International CES in January to unveil some of the first products, the executives said.

“We know it is a very competitive environment,” McConnaughey said. “We believe you have to have a global brand, great-looking products, a connected strategy to reach out to the content companies and you’ve got to have staying power.”