Abandoning TV business was unthinkable in Japan -- as far as I remember.
But the point of this story is that the profitability of TV business has gotten so slim (actually all the Japanese TV manufacturers are losing money) that the TV business at any Japanese consumer electronics company is no longer a sacred cow.
This is the era of fashion more than reliability. Japan loose out as slow to catch up fashion, features and pricing interact on volume sales. I still prefer Japanese products are much reliable than Korean ones are fashionable and more features.
Wasn't Sony slow to get into LCDs? As I recall, they were, and they actually offered some CRT-based HDTVs early on. And yet, it should have been oh so obvious that LCDs would eat everyone's lunch, including plasma's.
Sorry, Junko, but I have a different take on this. Whether or not Japan Inc. should look to "save" the TV business, it seems to me that there is still plenty of demand for large screen, HD displays in homes. All we need is a name change, at most, to get at what the future should bring. The new TVs should be IP-connected devices, fully flexible, capable of showing anything available on PCs, tablets, or even smart phones.
The fact that TV manufacturers only seem capable of building sorry excuses for actual "connected" TVs is what baffles me. I have no evidence, but the APPEARANCE is that they are in cahoots with the cable and satellite networks, deliberately making TVs that continue to make the customer overly dependent on these walled garden distribution systems.
Me? I've ignored their limitations and created my own. With an actual PC operating as "set top box." Networked into my home WiFi system.
Innovation and vision from management is the key word. Perhaps, Japanese big three become to some extent laggard and they lost the race. Sharp has taken good step and Sony and Panasonic should become more nimble. They should not abandon TV products.
Great insight. Rethink TV, indeed. The TV broadcast industry is also going through revolutions...but perhaps not fast enough. Consumers' TV viewing habits have also changed over the last few years. TV as a big box to watch broadcast TV won't cut it any more.
That's the problem with *being* the first mover and innovator. It's splendid for a while, but sooner or later (and probably *sooner*, in consumer electronics), competitors can duplicate what you do, and probably do it faster and cheaper.
The Japanese manufacturers are experiencing that. Being first to market is one thing. Staying there is another. And the pace of innovation is increasing, so that you don't stay there as long as you once did.
Remember when 3Com's Palm division created the Palm Pilot organizer, and created a whole new market? 3Com spun off Palm, who couldn't make PDAs fast enough to meet the demand. Execs from Palm formed Handspring, as a sort of budget line alternative. Sony jumped in with their Clie line, and other manufacturers dipped their toes as well. Pretty soon the market was saturated and PDAs became commodities with commodity pricing and margins. Sony dropped out. Palm bought Handspring to get the Treo, and limped along on it as the smartphone cannibalized the PDA market. Palm no longer exists.
The PDA phenomenon recapitulated what happened with the IBM PC, as PCs became commodities competing on proce, but an order of magnitude faster.
The same thing appears to be occurring in TV, and while the big three Japanese manufacturers were probably aware it might happen, I don't think they grasped how quickly it could occur.
If I were a consumer electronics manufacturer these days, I'd try to keep that in mind. I'd want to innovate, and be first to market with the Next Big Thing, but I'd be aware it was transitory, that competitors would duplicate it and probably make and sell it cheaper than I could, and that that would happen sooner rather than later. So I'd be watching the indicators, and actively planning for how I would *exit* the market when I could no longer make money in it, *before* I racked up billions in losses trying unsuccessfully to compete.
Japanese TV makers have stopped innovating. One area prime for a remake is the display itself. If the Japanese big three were first to come out with affordable, large (40 inch and above,) OLED displays for instance, they would have a competitive advantage due to the superior viewing quality of an OLED display versus any current LCD displays which are used in the majority of TVs sold today. When all of the parts of a modern flat screen TV are commodities you get commodity pricing of the entire TV as a result. Sony, Panasonic, and Sharp must find a way to compete on better technology and features - not price.
I agree in your natural evolution of the industry theory. But I would like to point out a few things here.
1. Japan ate the U.S. TV companies'lunch because they offered cheaper TVs, they focused volume production. (So, in that sense, yes, we are seeing a parallel now in terms of the natural evolution of the industry.)
2. But Japan was able to hang onto its victory a bit longer because Japan innovated LCD, plasma TV technologies (including design and production technologies)
3. What was totally unexpected for the Japanese vendors is that in the digital era, the barrier to entry to the value added products (like digital TVs, smart TVs, etc.) is very low. Anyone with a good piece of software (licensable) and a solid SoC (smart TV SoC) can become a "smart TV" very quickly.
So, on the flat panel TV front, Japan lost twice. She lost in the volume war; and she also lost in the value-added TV business.