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Mon 1 Jan 2007 12:00 AM

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‘Best-kept secret’ exposed

Armed with a bold marketing strategy promoting itself as Japan’s ‘best-kept secret’, Hitachi is stepping into the spotlight with a raft of innovative high defi nition-ready televisions planned for release in 2007.

Japanese consumer electronics vendor Hitachi is entering the fray of the highly competitive Middle East flat-screen TV market armed with a bevy of new HDTVs scheduled for release over the next 12 months.

The company, which showcased the new LCD and plasma TV range at the recent GITEX Dubai exhibition, has identified the Middle East as one of its priority markets worldwide, and is planning a major marketing assault in support of the TVs.

A major highlight of the Hitachi’s GITEX showcase was the debut of its 60-inch plasma TV prototype, which was flown in from Japan specifically for the event.

Scheduled for release in July, Hitachi claims it is the world’s first 60-inch plasma TV to feature full 1920 x 1080 image resolution. It also features the company’s proprietary e-ALIS technology, which Hitachi Middle East marketing executive Rohit Lohia says is designed to extend the lifespan of the plasma panel.

“Our e-ALIS panel boasts a lifespan of 60,000 hours of continuous viewing, which equates to 15 to 20 years of normal operation,” he claims. “Very few panel manufacturers guarantee this type of quality.”

Lohia says Hitachi’s entire range of plasma and LCD televisions – bar one 42-inch entry-level plasma model – is manufactured in Japan by the joint-venture company, Fujitsu Hitachi Japan (FHJ). Despite the nomenclature, Hitachi maintains 80% control of the organisation, which Lohia claims provides it with significant cost savings compared to its OEM-reliant market rivals.

Lohia says that while Hitachi’s LCD TV range is actually currently more extensive than its plasma offering, the company maintains a preference for promoting the latter technology.

It recently forged an alliance with fellow plasma proponents Panasonic and Pioneer to promote the technology in the face of increased consumer demand for LCD TVs, prompted by falling large-format panel prices.

“I believe that some consumers are misguided about LCD technology,” asserts Lohia. “For home usage, plasmas are a much better proposition than LCD TVs. When consumers compare LCD TVs and plasmas in a retail outlet, they are doing so in typically very bright ambient conditions, which play to LCD’s strengths.

“However, the contrast ratio of white to black is less impressive in normal ambient light conditions. Largescreen LCD TVs are also typically more expensive than equivalent-sized plasma models.

“We stress to our customers that if they want a bigscreen TV for use at home, then they should buy a plasma. If they are looking for a smaller screen in a confined space, then we recommend an LCD TV.”

Lohia says that Hitachi is committed to “brand building” in the Middle East, “which explains our major presence at GITEX in Dubai last November”.

“Hitachi as a brand has been fairly weak in this region, but we are adopting an aggressive expansion strategy, based on the introduction of these new products and an aggressive pricing policy,” he says.

“Of the nine models on display at GITEX, only one was currently on sale in the Middle East at the time, which was our 55-inch plasma TV.

Hitachi Japan believes the Middle East holds major potential for its business, so we are taking the local market very seriously.

“We realised the potential of this market three years ago when we first exhibited at GITEX.

“We have spent the interim period consolidating our business interests in the region. We have established a regional office in Dubai, expanded our distribution base, and recruited new staff across the Middle East.

This has placed us in an enviable position to take the business forward over the next 12 months.”

Lohia says that the company plans to further leverage its existing channel distribution partnerships in the Middle East – particularly in the GCC.

“Eros Group in the UAE and Al-Essa in Saudi Arabia have been brilliant for our business in both countries,” he says. “Demand for our plasma TVs is also booming in Kuwait. In the past, we struggled to sell 15 plasma TVs annually in Kuwait, but now we sell around 100 each month. We rely heavily on our distributors to market our products in each country. We offer them support, but we expect them to lead the charge in these markets. They are the fi rst and last point of contact for us in the region.”

Lohia also admits that the company’s previous marketing strategy – or lack thereof –had stifled its growth in the Middle East.

“Our marketing approach has traditionally been quite weak in the Middle East,” he concedes. “We have developed many ‘world’s first’ products in the past, but consumers haven’t been made aware of them.

“We have concentrated on technology, but not branding. The time is right to rebalance this situation. We have relied too heavily on word of mouth marketing.”

Hitachi will roll-out the new plasma and LCD TVs over the next six months across the Middle East. Lohia says the company has no immediate plans to introduce a Blu-ray DVD player to the region, instead preferring to gauge the response of international markets to the technology before committing to a release.

In lieu of this, he says the company will focus its efforts on promoting its new hybrid camcorder range, which combines hard disk and DVD recording capabilities.

“We are the first vendor to offer this technology in the camcorder market,” he says. “We launched the range in Japan in the second half of 2006, and it has gone on to achieve around 20% market share.

“The technology enables users to record up to six hours of footage on the hard disk drive or two hours on DVD. They can also burn content from the hard disk to DVD internally.

“The camcorders are another example of our ingenuity in terms of technological innovation. We’ve always had great products, but consumers haven’t been aware of them. We are determined to change this situation.”

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