The world’s biggest retailer Walmart is on the minds of many in the FPD industry as it continues to grow as a major outlet for FPD TVs as well as other consumer electronics products. Equally important is how it goes about merchandising these products. In an announcement (finally) made earlier last week, Walmart announced a refresh to its in-store digital signage network now dubbed Walmart Smart Network. Walmart is often stated by many to be the US’s fifth largest TV network (behind NBC, ABC, CBS and FOX) due to the foot traffic of Walmart with “120-130 million viewers a month” often mentioned. This upgrade to the existing Walmart TV requires new Digital Signage displays, which is great news for the industry.
The roll-out was publicly stated to include 27,000 Public Display/Digital Signage solutions over a two-year period. The integrator is the US’s largest provider of Digital Signage, Thompson’s PRN (Premier Retail Networks http://www.prn.com/) which has recently struck a deal with display provider Planar.
Figure 1 Examples of PRN’s Current Solutions for Walmart: 15”, 42” and 57” LCD Displays
The world’s largest retailer’s a major initiative to roll-out a significant number of Digital Signage displays is excellent news for the Public Display market (as the FPD market continues to look for that “next big market” beyond FPD TVs). However, the details of the roll-out from the supply-chain side may cause many of the top brands and panel vendors to re-evaluate either their pricing or their product strategy.
Indications from Taiwan reveal that Planar’s back-end partners for this roll-out will be Taiwan’s Chi Lin Technology, providing OEM support and integrating LCD panels from CMO. For smaller sizes like end-cap displays, Planar may rely on one of its typical OEM partners for its monitor/public display business, Coretronic, but this will only be for 15” XGA sizes, which are slated to use “typical monitor panels,” some with touch panels.
Of greater interest to the FPD producers within the Digital Signage industry is the fact that the larger size LCD displays—42” and 57” panels—will come from CMO. Since Chi Lin is a CMO subsidiary, then the vertical integration was seemingly selected to help keep costs down. What may come as a shock to many in the FPD industry is that CMO (one of the leading Taiwanese large-area LCD panel producers) does not offer a line of commercial-grade LCD panels, so the 42” and 57” LCD panels used in the solution will be TV-grade panels.
Might a decision like this from Walmart/PRN/Planar cause a shift in Large Format LCD panel roadmaps? Or closer price-parity from LCD producers to their brand and integration partners between commercial-grade panels and TV-grade panels? Either way, the good news for the industry is that Digital Signage continues to gain momentum, and it can now focus more on supply-chain concerns rather than on true end-market demand, which seems to grow every day.