How US TV companies are racing to fill the 'Pioneer gap', and get the high-end TV market humming again

It seems Pioneer's decision to pull out of the TV market, depriving consumers and retailers of reassuringly expensive flat-panel models, is providing an opportunity for other companies.

And clearly some of them believe that, even in These Difficult Economic Times™, there's a market for high-end tellies, set apart from the mass-market.

Already Panasonic is reported to have been targeting US AV specialist retailers hit by the Pioneer decision, and facing shrinking margins created by the still-intense competition in the flatscreen market.

Now it seems Samsung is going after the same upmarket approach, rolling out a $65m (£44m) advertising campaign, and implementing a new Minimum Advertised Pricing policy Stateside.

It's a bold move, tied in with a desire to reposition the brand as an elite one, and aided by the new styling and technologies being offered in the company's 2009 models. Samsung already has market-leading status in the USA, and is building on that by reducing the number of online retailers offering deep discounts, and potentially cutting by a third the number of authorised 'e-tailers' carrying its products.

The company isn't enforcing its pricing strictly, and says that retailers will still be free to set their own pricing levels, but those wishing to take advantage of the company's major promotional push, and get involved in co-operative ads, will be expected to stick to the prices carried in those adverts.

The company is setting out its stall with a focus on its new models combining LCD panels with LED backlighting and 240Hz frame rate (200Hz here in the UK), which will be its main focus this year. In addition, it clearly thinks its plasma range, which is both ultra-thin and able to deliver high-contrast, is a tempting prospect for those former Kuro dealers.

Tim Baxter, president of Samsung's US consumer electronics division, told trade magazine TWICE that, “Our over-arching strategy in TV has been to continue to move up stream, and we have done that quite effectively over the past few years.”

The LED TV technology is, Baxter said, "about bringing in the best picture quality with its mega-contrast ratio.

“It is about leveraging the design technology around its edge-based lighting system that allows for a panel thinness of about an inch and it gives us the ability to offer a truly environmentally friendly solution that is lead-free, mercury-free and requires 40 percent less power to operate.”

It'll be interesting to see how this policy pans out in the States, and whether Samsung can succeed where Pioneer clearly felt it was destined to fail.

Andrew has written about audio and video products for the past 20+ years, and been a consumer journalist for more than 30 years, starting his career on camera magazines. Andrew has contributed to titles including What Hi-Fi?, GramophoneJazzwise and Hi-Fi CriticHi-Fi News & Record Review and Hi-Fi Choice. I’ve also written for a number of non-specialist and overseas magazines.