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Toshiba Reenters MP3 Market

Wayne, N.J. — Television and print advertising along with celebrity endorsements will herald the reentry of Toshiba America into the MP3 portable market after a two-year absence.

Ads appearing on MTV, Comedy Central, VH1, and TV Land start in the next few weeks to promote hard-disk-drive (HDD) headphone portables shipping to retailers sometime this spring under the Gigabeat name. A print campaign already launched in Rolling Stone magazine will be expanded to other magazines in the coming months, said senior business development manager Louis Masses. Toshiba will likely place radio spots to support the products, Masses added.

The ads promote the “Music in Color” theme, which highlights the portables’ high-resolution color displays and availability of select models in different colors. Underscoring the color theme, the ads will include appearances by music groups whose names include colors: Blues Traveler, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, and Vendetta Red.

“For us, this is a very large marketing campaign,” he said without disclosing cost.

Toshiba also launched a Gigabeat Web site from which purchasers can download about 10 free music tracks supplied by Universal Motown Records Group. Purchasers will also be able to download wallpaper and other files from the site to personalize their device.

The time is right to reenter the market, Masses said, because of the industry’s surging sales, fueled in large part by the promotion and availability of authorized download services. Toshiba can be successful in the market, he contended, because of its intuitive, easy-to-use products; brand awareness; leadership in building HDDs; and its status as a consumer electronics brand that, compared to computer-industry brands, could make the average consumer “more comfortable” with buying the products, he said.

Toshiba is not looking to become an iPod slayer, he added. “It’s a very rapidly growing market. There’s no need to go after iPod,” he said. “We’ll help grow the market.”

Yoshi Uchiyama, digital A/V group VP, said the market “is growing more than anyone expected” and that “we want to be another leader” in the business.

In 2002, the company briefly offered a single HDD portable with 5GB removable hard drive in Type II PC Card format. When it was discontinued, the company cited price and size as hindering sales. Toshiba previously offered flash-memory portables.

Four new HDD models, some available in multiple colors, feature 1.8-inch Toshiba-made HDDs. The models are the 10GB MEG-F10 in silver, blue or black acrylic at $279 MAP; the 20GB MEG-F20 at $329 (street price) in silver or black brushed aluminum; the 40GB MEG-F40 in brushed-aluminum champagne finish at $399 with in-line remote; and 60GB MEG-F60 “steel” brushed aluminum finish at $449 with in-line remote control.

Each features 2.2-inch 240 by 320-pixel color TFT screen to view photos and album art and set slideshows to music. Pictures can be displayed in horizontal or vertical mode. To simplify use, the portables feature a cross-shaped touchpad and a docking/ripping station, which allows for one-step 30-second ripping of a CD in a PC’s CD drive directly to a Gigabeat without manually dragging and dropping files. Files transferred through the docking station are ripped in WMA format, but the devices also play MP3 and WAV files natively.

The Microsoft PlaysForSure-certified devices play protected-WMA downloads and subscription-based WMA downloads. Their embedded rechargeable batteries operate for up to 16 hours and can be recharged from the docking station or via a USB cable from any PC.

The Gigabeat devices are the first in a Gigastyle family of products that will be expanded late this year to include at least two Gigashot HDD-based digital camcorder/still cameras, said Masses. Gigastyle-family products will be HDD-based products whose hallmarks are intuitive operation and ease of use, he said. Gigastyle products will fall under the same marketing umbrella.

When announced at CES, the Gigabeats were priced higher at $299, $349, $449 and $549.