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TV-shopping season kicks off on CNET

Here is a look at how TV manufacturers are performing, from the perspective of CNET Reviews usage. Of note: strong performance of Samsung Electronics, which replaced Sony at No. 1.

In a previous post, I drilled into the notebook category to provide CNET users with a look at how various manufacturers are trending on our sites. Watching how manufacturers are faring on CNET--where millions of people go each month to research products before buying--you can get an early read on which vendors will do well at the cash register.

As we head into the crucial holiday season, I thought it'd be educational to look at how TV manufacturers are performing. I say crucial because the TV category on CNET gets as much usage during the three-month stretch from November to January as the five-month period of June through October.

But before we dive into the TV numbers, let's gain a little altitude to see the high-level performance of CNET. Page views on CNET Reviews in November were up 15 percent, compared with November 2008, and unique users were up a robust 31 percent (yes, that means more users are finding us but are turning fewer pages per visit--an expected byproduct of our work in simplifying our sites).

At the category level, CNET tracks what it calls "considered users," defined as visitors who clicked on a product review, and/or on a pricing link on the review page or elsewhere on CNET.

In industry parlance, the people reading product reviews, checking out specs, viewing a video, and so on are described as being "up funnel" because they are thinking about buying something but are still in research mode. "Down funnel" users are those who have clicked on a pricing or merchant link because they are that much closer to making a purchase. In either case, they are all "considered users" because they are considering a product.

With overall site usage running well ahead of last year, the TV category should perform well due to a triple play of stimuli: the holidays, the NFL, and lots of marketing buzz around LED TVs. If past trends hold true, the next couple months will see a surge in users researching TVs (and fortunately, we have the best tester in the business in David Katzmaier).

For each of the past two holiday seasons, December and November saw the heaviest usage. The third-busiest month of the year was January, likely spillover from the holidays, as well as people looking for a new TV to watch the NFL playoffs and Super Bowl (which will be televised by CNET parent company CBS in 2010).

Indeed, for the past couple years, the number of users researching TVs during the three-month period of November through January was more than 4 million, roughly equal to the five-month period of June through October.

At the manufacturer level, the following chart shows the top 5 on CNET and how they have trended on CNET over the past nearly 3 years. Of note is the strong performance of Samsung Electronics, which replaced Sony in the No. 1 spot in March 2008. Meanwhile, Panasonic has held steady, while Sharp and Vizio have sagged during the same period.

As I did with notebooks, I would like to compare our numbers with some third-party sales figures. However, direct apples-to-apples comparisons can't be made with the current stats I have from iSupply. When I get comparable numbers, I'll update this post. And when the final numbers are in for the three-month holiday and Super Bowl period, you can expect a new post.