BrandLine catches up with the latest in Samsung TVs in a chat with H. S. Kim.

The Hyderabad international convention centre is buzzing. Korean consumer electronics giant Samsung’s Forum, an annual event to showcase the latest gadgets and technology from its stable is on. H.S. Kim, Executive Vice President and Head of Samsung’s Visual Display Business, is on his first visit to India and is keen to see how Indian consumers respond to Samsung’s products. Kim, who joined the company as a researcher in 1992, has played a key role in the evolution of Samsung’s LED TV and monitor business. A celebrated engineer in the Samsung network as well as internationally, Kim spoke to Brand Line for this exclusive interview on the evolution of high-end TVs and on consumer trends. Excerpts:

How important is India a market for you?

India is a huge opportunity; Indian and Korean cultures are quite similar. Looking at the population, and your growth rate, we need to focus more here. In the TV area, you are making a transition from CRT to flat panel TV (FPTV), which gives Samsung a lot of business opportunity.

Do you see India emerging among your top five markets?

Eventually, India may become number one or two, because of the size of the country and your population.

What are the broad trends across the world in TV evolution?

Looking at the last 10 years, there is a huge change with innovation, mostly in hardware. There has been a transition in displays from CRT to FPTV. That gives us a lot of opportunity.

The size of the TV is growing. About seven years ago, a 33-inch FPTV used to cost $5,000; now it’s $300. Prices crashed and that’s because of innovation. Consumers require innovation and Samsung responded. Over the next several years, we expect other changes in hardware.

In the future, new technologies such as OLED (organic light emitting diode) and bigger screen sizes will come to the market. In the case of Samsung, our average size of display worldwide is 40 inches. For the future, we have great opportunity to increase it to 55-inch or more.

New technology such as OLED gives lots of opportunity, better picture quality, different applications, flexible LED/ transparent LED. Software is another critical point.

The trend is to pushing technology towards Smart TVs. There are millions of channels with varied content. The TV should be smart enough to recommend and choose the content for you. That’s the software intelligence in TV that makes you more relaxed, providing the ultimate lean-back experience.

How will the TV respond to consumer’s expectation of a programme?

We are analysing consumer behaviour. It will select the right content for consumers (based on viewing behaviour).

How far are you away from commercialisation of this?

We are doing it. In advanced markets such as the US, Europe, we will be capable of doing it soon.

Will OLED TV be the next growth market? Will it overtake LED/LCD?

I hope so, but don’t think it will happen very fast. It requires huge investment in the fab and manufacturing industries. It may take another 3-4 years before this becomes a major driver.

How have consumers taken to Smart TVs? Do they use it to the optimum?

Actually the connectivity is helping it increase dramatically. Obviously, in US and Europe because of bandwidth, it is doing well. Sixty per cent of our TV consumers are connected, they use this frequently (Smart TV functions). India is coming up very fast. That’s why we expect a lot in India. People using a Smart TV in their life is good news for us.

We do a lot of surveys on how consumers use Smart TVs, what they interact with, what they are looking for from their TVs. When we started with Smart TVs, people thought it’s just being Internet-connected. But, since the last year, we brought motion and voice control, and this year we are making it more intuitive. There’s motion control for channel search … all these features are for making the viewing experience easier and richer.

So, it’s not just about TVs being connected to the Internet? I wouldn’t like to catch up on my mail on a TV…!

(Laughs) A TV is a TV. It cannot be a computer, or a phone. Basically the approach to it is that since consumers are watching videos, we need to focus more on video to see how easily they can view content. You have many smart devices to look at e-mail.

What is your positioning now? Earlier, Samsung said a Smart TV was one because of its Net connectivity. But, now you say it’s not really so.

We are still on the learning curve. A TV cannot be like other devices. People’s behaviour in front of a TV is to relax, they want to sit back. That’s why motion control and voice recognition is important. You don’t have to use the remote control, you simply want to ask it to do something naturally. Right now, with current technology, a TV can recognise your voice, you can talk to your TV. For example, you can ask it for any recommendations for viewing tonight and the TV recommends content. If I want to watch James Bond, then it searches and delivers it.

You have launched a new TV here at the Forum which saves content from the TV onto a pen drive …?

The new TV we have developed is for the SW Asia region, and the India market. Indians love to sing in their movies, they love to share experiences with others, friends/ family. Copying from a USB is the easiest way to share. This makes the experience of sharing easier.

TV screen sizes are getting larger and so also tablets. How do you see the multi-screen market? Will there be a consolidation?

I don’t think any device will consolidate; it’s helping each other, a complementary situation. Some of the features are more tailored to understanding you more, TV is interacting in a more and more immersive way.

What about the competition here? LG is very aggressive and the Japanese companies are getting aggressive too now. How will you hold on to your position as a market leader?

The simple answer is innovation, that’s the key word. Innovation is always happening by understanding the consumers’ mind and requirements. Actually, consumers cannot visualise a product, they are asking what they need. ‘I want my TV to do this…’ and we are very well trained to understand their demand.

Sometimes consumers can’t spell out what they want. Do you lead the market and tell consumers that this is probably what you want?

That’s very tricky. In 2009 Samsung introduced LED TVs. We did a lot of surveys around what consumers want. One requirement of theirs was that they wanted to hang the TV easily on the wall. Hanging a TV on the wall? We interpreted that in technology terms as having to make the TV lighter and thinner, let it hang like a picture frame. We need to interpret what consumers want. Obviously they cannot say I want an LED TV, but we have to come up with the right solutions.

Where is this research taking place?

We do this research globally … when we have new features we do the research both in developed and developing countries as well. We have a special organisation, a production innovation team (PIT), in every country. Even in India. People are actually looking at what Indian people want, not only surveying but prototyping.

Do you see competition getting more fierce in India?

No, I don’t think so. This happens worldwide. Nothing special in India.

Are you seeing any specific regional trends or in Asian markets? In terms of content?

In general, growing countries in SE Asia, such as China and India, are looking for bigger TVs. Indians love to see content on bigger screens. They love to hear better (and louder) sounds. They love to copy content easily and share, from one to the other. The PIT is very important; people from this team are focused on understanding the local people.

Have you scaled up capacity for flat panels? Do you see prices coming down ?

It’s not happening any more. LCD panel capacity is enough. Other than in China, I do not see any huge capacity increase. Prices will be stable for the next several years, unless we bring in new demand in the FPTV market.

Samsung is also doing extremely well in smartphones. Are you today a smart phone company or a consumer goods company?

(Laughs) We are both. We have been leaders in FPTV for the last eight years. Our TV is ‘evolutionary’, others are not. We have developed an evolution kit; by installing it in the TV it becomes like a smart TV.

The normal cycle of TV purchase is 7-8 years. If you put in an evolutionary kit, then the TV is upgraded right away. Many people come up to me and say that they have last year’s model of TV when we upgrade it for the next year. With this tech one doesn’t have to change the whole display.

(This article was published on March 7, 2013)
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