New York — Bob Perry, who joined Panasonic Display Company as senior VP last month, hasn’t spent too much time at company headquarters in Secaucus, N.J., this week, being a panelist at Display Search’s meeting on Tuesday and attending the company’s press briefings on its flat-panel lineup, here, on Wednesday.
TWICE took the occasion to ask this industry veteran some questions about Panasonic and the flat-panel business as he starts out in his new job.
TWICE: Last week initial headlines out of Japan concerning Pioneer’s plasma TV decision made it sound like it was no longer going to sell the format. Many asked, “Is plasma dead?” What do you say to retailers who voice their concerns about the format?
Perry: Clearly the format is not dead — it is a huge business. What happened to Pioneer is that they saw the scale it needed to compete effectively and said it could not do it. Like many other companies, they have come to us ... and will continue to market plasma under their own brand. Pioneer is a great company and has not left the [plasma] business.
TWICE: Should your retailers be concerned that in supplying Pioneer you might not have enough panels to meet the needs of your own brand?
Perry: Absolutely not. Panasonic would not damage its brand by supplying panels to an outside partner ahead of itself. Second, and most important, we plan our production well and project effectively what our dealers need. Our production capacity is so large [supplying Pioneer] would have no effect on us.
TWICE: Panasonic has emphasized plasma over the years, although LCD has been part of its line for years. Now the Viera brand covers both plasma and LCD. How is LCD positioned in your lineup now?
Perry: LCD is part of our line and we don’t have to have fights [between formats] because its screen sizes are 26-, 32- and 37-inch models. We will have more [models] over time as we ramp up and drive output from a new factory [by 2010]. LCD is not a second-class part of our lineup.
TWICE: Toshihiro Sakamoto, president of Panasonic AVC Networks, said at CES that plasma can compete in the marketplace against LCD and OLED for the next “five to seven years.” How can the format continue to compete?
Perry: There is continued improvement on plasma’s contrast ratio, picture response, the ability to produce better colors. The real issue on the trade side is can plasma compete in the 42- to 65-inch part of the market? The answer is yes. For how long? The foreseeable future, as Mr. Sakamoto said. We have also seen the investment we have made in the LCD business. For smaller [room] sizes, LCD is the right choice. It is the right choice for a computer. But most consumers don’t attach their computers to 42-inch [LCD] displays.
Some have said that consumers have decided that LCD is the better [flat-panel format]. Consumers are smart and buy based on what value they want. The market is voting very clearly in the 42-inch and above market to go with plasma. We don’t fear LCD. Both formats can coexist and we can be successful with both.
TWICE: Panasonic is going to merchandise and bundle its HDTV and related HD products to the consumers. What kind of a challenge will that be?
Perry: Some manufacturers get wrapped up in technology ... we talk to ourselves. There are consumers who have money and want technology. There are others who have money, want technology and know this stuff. The former is a 100 times bigger market. They will buy a Viera flat-screen, HD camcorder, HTiB with Blu-ray that you can use with Viera Link, if they are easy to use. And they are. That’s the name of the game.
TWICE: Some have said that after this year, after the digital transition next February, that HDTV will become a commodity business. What do you think?
Perry: There are a lot of people in this business who do not have a sense of perspective. Back in 1996 you had trouble getting an extra $100 [at retail] for a two-tuner PIP. There was no HD standard back in April 1997, but the industry developed innovations to drive sales. This business is tough, and it’s a tough business. We have so many innovations going forward such as IPTV, Tru2way-ready TVs and other cool things that will drive sales.