How bad is the flat-panel TV business in the U.S.?
Well, you've seen the reports about Sony, Panasonic, Sharp losing money and part of the reason why: The growth phase is over and the next phase -- at least in the U.S. is actually down, according to iSuppli.
After 1% growth in 2011, the slowest ever in the flat-panel era, shipments are expected to fall this year from 39 million to 37 million, a drop of about 5%. They are expected to fall again in 2013 and wind up around 34 million in 2014 and 2015.
These are still big numbers but they point out a few macro trends:
1) Our economic recovery, while real, is slow. Job growth is slow, real income gains are pretty much non-existent, the housing-debt overhang is far from gone, etc. etc. Leaving the politics of this aside, there is some extraordinary data on how recessions are taking longer to recover from generally, how things like financial panics generally take years to fix, etc. etc. We're dealing with reality and it sucks.
2) People are, in fact, keeping TVs longer, not shorter. There is some mythology that TVs are getting replaced faster. That's largely based on the once-in-a-generation cycle of replacing all the CRTs and non-digital TVs and averaging in all that data to mis-conclude that TV buying cycles were shortening. Now that everyone who wants a digital TV has one, most replacement is done by need, change of address, etc. Ironically, this favors...
3) ... the shift toward larger sizes will continue. Since people aren't buying TVs "just 'cause" they are pretty much buying them when they really want them. One really big want is to go bigger. Tracking how the size shifts go in a flat market over the next few years will be interesting. How fast and how big will tell us a lot because the U.S. HDTV market is mature at this point.
4) Apple is going to face challenges no matter what if they price any hypothetical TV too high up the food chain. Part of the reason the iPad is so successful is that it isn't expensive vs. other 10" tablets. (Please, don't start on 7" tablets, I'm well aware they are cheaper. To date, no first-tier manufacturer has been able to undercut iPad by any meaningful number of dollars and sometimes smaller tablets like Galaxy Tab 7.7 cost as much as 10" iPads.) If an Apple TV is really pricey, they aren't selling many. Worth tracking. Also worth wondering, even 20% of the TV market in the U.S. doesn't sounds exceptionally interesting unless they are selling a lot of associated content given Apple's size.
Oh, more here from iSuppli: http://www.isuppli.com/Display-Mater...This-Year.aspx