Update: This article was corrected to reflect that the information is for the fourth quarter of 2008, not the whole year.
The liquid crystal display TV market is beginning to lose some steam.
The fourth quarter was the first time that the total number of shipments of LCD TVs in North America was lower than the same quarter the previous year. Just 8.7 million units were shipped during the last quarter of 2008, a 2 percent decline from the 8.9 million shipped during the same time in 2007, according to data released Thursday by DisplaySearch, which tracks the TV industry.
In December, DisplaySearch issued a warning that in 2009, revenue from selling LCD TVs will also fall for the first time ever.
Plasma TV makers were ready for this, it seems. Plasma TV shipments actually increased 28 percent during the fourth quarter of 2008 (peak holiday season), and overall were up 10 percent for the year.
Plasma may have seen a bigger demand during the quarter because of the current economic climate and increasingly cost-conscious buyers: plasma tends to be more cost effective, and TVs sporting the technology are generally 5 to 10 percent lower in price than similarly sized LCD TVs, according to Paul Gagnon, who monitors the TV market for DisplaySearch. In some cases, plasma shipments actually grew at the expense of LCD, he said.
Meanwhile, the number of major manufacturers producing plasma sets is declining. No. 3 plasma maker Vizio said Wednesday it would cease production of plasma and focus entirely on LCD TVs. And late last week a report surfaced that Pioneer was leaning toward exiting the plasma business as well. That leaves just Panasonic, Samsung, and LG Electronics as the major producers of plasma TVs. Gagnon expects Panasonic and Samsung, who already hold about three quarters of the plasma market in North America between them, to pick up where Vizio--and possibly Pioneer--leaves off.
"Both Samsung and Panasonic will probably evenly split (what's left) up," he said. "But Panasonic is in a little bit better position in club store channels than Samsung," where Vizio is strongest.
Also of note in DisplaySearch's data: Sony gained a lot of ground in LCD TVs during the fourth quarter of 2008. The company shipped just over 16 percent of all LCD TVs to North America, creeping closer to Samsung's 19.3-percent share. Sony hasn't had a share that high in more than three years. Gagnon says that the fourth quarter is always a highlight for Sony, but that the company, which usually positions its brand as higher end, was actually "neck-and-neck" with Samsung on pricing during the holidays.
We shouldn't expect that to continue into 2009, according to Gagnon. "They'll probably be more conservative" about pricing, he said.