Not only has the number of TVs shipped by manufacturers fallen, but LCD shipments have dropped for the first time. It’s raised questions about build quality, the lack of obsolescence, and the lack of interest in 3D technology.
During the first three months of this year, worldwide shipments of all televisions are estimated to have dropped to 51 million, down eight percent on the same period last year. That’s the biggest proportional decline since mid 2009.
The bigger story though comes with LCD screens, which now make up six out of every seven sales. Shipments of LCDs are down three percent to 43 million.
Most analysts quoted on the drop seem to believe it’s simply a case of market saturation. The theory is that virtually everyone who is going to change from an older model, particularly a bulky CRT set, to a flatscreen has already done so.
That means that for most people the only reason to buy a new set is to replace one that breaks. Ironically that’s where the television set industry harms itself as most sets tend to be well-made and last many years. Heck, from a personal perspective I’ve not even made it to high-definition (1080p) yet, simply because I can’t justify getting rid of a good quality plasma TV that’s still in perfect working order six years on, and 37″ is too big to relegate to the bedroom.
The move to HD seems to have been the last major inspiration for people to replace their sets early, in the same way as the first generation of flatscreens and, before them, color sets. At this stage it seems the prospect of 3D sets or internet-connected sets isn’t tantalizing enough to get people to spend again.
There also seems to be a global divide: as much as the market is saturated in wealthier countries, large-screen TVs are still too costly to be a viable upgrade in developing markets.
The pattern could also be bad news for those looking for a bargain buy. CNN notes that with retailers taking fewer sets into stock now, they are less likely to need to clear warehouses at traditional sale periods such as Black Friday and after Christmas.
Perhaps the best hope for TV manufacturers looking to increase sales would be to look at the smartphone market where people are much happier to replace working equipment more frequently. Maybe we’ll even see deals where customers get hefty discounts on the latest sets in return for signing up to a premium cable package, with an option to upgrade to a new television every couple of years.