A few weeks back, I had an opportunity to visit the manufacturing plant of Thomson TVs (Super Plastronics Private Limited) in Noida. It was an interesting and unique experience to witness LED/LCD TVs being assembled from close quarters, and some parts also being manufactured right there. It was also great to see almost every feature of each unit being methodically tested before getting packed and shipped.
Post that, I had a chance to have an elaborate chat with SPPL Director and CEO, Avneet Singh Marwah, about the past, present and future of Thomson TVs in India, and the brand in general, among other things. Here are excerpts from the interaction.
Editor's note: Some replies have been edited for brevity and style
Tech2: What is the major USP of Thomson TVs?
Avneet Singh Marwah: Super Plastronics Private Limited (SPPL) has been manufacturing in India for 30 years now and Thomson, being a part of the company portfolio, also follows that. Our engagement with Indian consumers for such a long period has made us more in sync with our consumers' taste, their likes and dislikes. This has also made us efficient enough to map on-going and upcoming trends basis which we develop the next product.
For instance, with our Thomson Android TV series, we have focused on technologies like sound quality and updates of applications. There is much data on how time spent on listening to music has increased for Indians, experimentation with applications has also increased. All the Indian applications are very much working and synchronised with the TV, plus, with the new Google Assistant it can certainly pick up Hindi words and the AI can respond to Hindi language, which is making the experience very comfortable for our customers.
Tech2: How do you plan to get ahead in the crowded budget smart TV segment here?
Marwah: When Thomson was launched, back in 2018, we did not think we would become the 2nd best-selling television brand online in the country, but here we are.
Before starting out, one needed to internally align a few departments in the organisation, such as infrastructure. Thomson was equipped with SPPL's 30-year long manufacturing experience. In that time period, we have continued to make vast investments in warehousing, establishing service centres and offices across India.
Secondly, we are a completely backward integrated 'Make in India' plant where we do each and everything in India. Thirdly, Thomson is currently available in 18,000 pin codes and we have a service network in 19,000 pin codes. This was not done overnight, and in fact, it took an enormous effort to establish this kind of a presence within two years, despite Thomson being an affordable TV brand. This has worked to our advantage, especially in establishing a better connection with our consumers despite being an online-only brand.
So, I will say that this ecosystem that we have created has been our greatest strength and a new brand that plans to enter this market will have to have this established if it aims for sustainable growth.
Tech2: What is the company's current market share in India? Can you shed some light on the number of Thomson Smart TVs sold in India (year on year) in the past two years, and targets for the coming financial year?
Marwah: Our current market share is 4.5 percent for Thomson and our target is to achieve 8 percent market share in India. Our goal is to reach the magical one million units in the coming years.
Tech2: How is the 'Make in India' initiative coming along for your brand? Any plans of exporting TVs from India in the near future?
Marwah: As mentioned above, we are a complete backward integrated plant. We have our own moulding, in-house paint shop, in house SMT. We also source a lot of components locally from India, but that is subject to availability as well. For the rest of the materials, we buy from Japan, Taiwan and China post which we assemble all these components in India.
The future plan is to export. There are a number of opportunities coming our way, we are in the process of reviewing them currently.
Tech2: You had recently announced that you would be developing a certified Android TV platform for your TVs in India. Can you give us more details? And how would it be different from that on your current certified Android TV models?
Marwah: Thomson has become the first-ever brand in India to get the license from Google. Currently, we are focusing on R&D. We have tied up with a firm in Bengaluru. The organisation is using our data and knowledge about customers and trends to develop new technologies with an all-new (Android-based) operating system. Our mission is to convince customers to switch from small screens to the bigger screen as it will give them a better experience for enjoying all of their favourite content.
Tech2: Would that mark the end of AOSP platform on your future models, especially on screens larger than 40 inches?
Marwah: AOSP devices will be EOL (End-of-life) by Q3 as we are facing a lot of challenges. A lot of the applications on it are not working, and by end of this year, most will completely stop processing on AOSP devices as they cannot be updated. Hence, Thomson will focus on certified Android TVs mostly.
Tech2: What innovations can the consumer expect from Thomson in 2020?
Marwah: Thomson is investing heavily into Artificial Intelligence. We believe it is the next big disrupter when it comes to the television industry. Currently, Thomson Android TVs can be connected to 4,000 devices. We are aggressively working on the concept of 'smart homes' and how a large screen can be connected to all your devices.
We are also using technology to branch out into 14 other local languages. This will help our customers view their favourite content with just one command in their preferred language.
Tech2: Any plans of launching QLED or OLED models in 2020?
Marwah: In 2020, there are a lot of new technology products that will be launching. I will not be able to disclose anything yet. However, there are a lot of surprises planned for 2020.
Tech2: Does Thomson plan to stay online-only brand in India in the foreseeable future?
Marwah: In 2018, Thomson was available in 12,000 pin codes and today it is available in more than 18,000 pin codes, which I think was only possible because of the strategic partnership we share with Flipkart. In the next two years, we are targeting 22,000 pin codes, which will be difficult for any other platform to reach. So we are completely focused and investing more online.
Tech2: Is the company looking beyond TVs in India?
Marwah: There will be an announcement that we will be making for 2020. Thomson has a lot of opportunities in India which we are keen to explore. The idea is to make technology-friendly, affordable, and available for all.