Panasonic Puts Its Chips on 3D TV

North American CEO: Yoshi Yamada

Rank: 75

Coming at You: The new TVs will be promoted alongside the eagerly awaited 3D film Avatar

All consumer electronics companies have to draw attention to themselves in an ever-more-cluttered marketplace. Incremental improvements on familiar products won't do the trick these days. Panasonic, which ranks 75th on our list of the Best Global Brands, will take its chances on bringing to the living room a technology just catching on in movie theaters. Hello, 3D television. And 3D video and digital cameras, Blu-ray players, and more. "This is the biggest thing out there for us, says Eisuke Tsuyuzaki, the chief technology officer of Panasonic's North American Operations. "As a business, 3D has a huge potential bang for the buck." Panasonic is known for its high-quality, large-screen plasma televisions, which helped it shore up its U.S. market share during the Great Recession (even as it and every other competitor watched prices fall by as much as 30%). But recently, the company, which makes everything from light bulbs to refrigerators, has been trying to create an even higher brand profile.

Last year the former Matsushita Electric Industrial renamed itself Panasonic. It was a no-brainer because the Panasonic brand has a reputation for technological prowess and could cast a halo over the stodgy Japanese leviathan.

Panasonic has been building up the brand ever since. It won praise for its Viera high-definition TVs, which were the first sets able to stream shows and movies from the Web without any additional equipment. Then right after the launch of the TVs, the company started a service called VieraCast, which allows viewers to watch videos from YouTube and on the Viera sets. Panasonic also set up a social network,, where Viera fans and other early adopters can get glimpses of new products, trade information, and share complaints, too. The company claims it has more than 70,000 members.

Panasonic gained prominence among a broader audience when it landed a coveted spot as an official sponsor of the 2008 Democratic National Convention. It provided 200 high-definition TVs (including three 103-inch monsters behind the podium where Barack Obama accepted the nomination of his party).

Sometime next year, the company plans to introduce its 3D sets so that couch potatoes can watch 3D movies and sporting events in all their eye-popping glory. Panasonic won't be the first out there with 3D: Samsung, Mitsubishi Electric, and Texas Instruments (TXN) sell 3D-ready sets now. But Panasonic will have a big marketing advantage. The company has a deal with 20th Century Fox (NWS) to help promote the eagerly anticipated 3D film, Avatar, directed by James Cameron and due to be released in December. Panasonic has begun a worldwide advertising campaign, featuring the film along with its 3D TVs and Blu-ray players.

Panasonic, of course, hopes 3D will go mainstream, as HDTV did, and cast a glow over the entire brand. But 3D sets will be pricey, at least for the first few years. (Panasonic won't give details.) And viewers will have to wear battery-operated glasses to get the full effect. It could be a hard sell.

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