Will Coronavirus Impact the Flow of 2020 TVs?

Every year as LG gets ready to release new TVs into the market, the company invites reviewers from all over the country to its Los Angeles facility to introduce the new lineup. Just this week I was scheduled to travel to that annual event for an up-close look at LG’s 2020 TV lineup. I thought seriously for days about whether or not to attend as coronavirus (COVID-19) slowly spreads across the country.

Optional travel to LA in this situation didn’t seem like a great idea, nor did two flights each way, snuggly packed into a metal tube with a hundred or more sweaty passengers, some of them coughing and sneezing into the recirculated air. Fortunately, LG made the decision for me and wisely cancelled the event.

Other events in the U.S. and overseas have also been axed or delayed. In our industry alone the annual High End Munich audio show, the largest such consumer event in the world, won’t be held this year. The biggest consumer audio show in the U.S., April’s Axpona in Chicago, was just postponed until August. I was looking forward to attending. The annual SXSW (South by Southwest) music gathering in Austin Texas was also cancelled the other day. And while we don’t cover the annual NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) convention in Las Vegas, it’s coming soon and possibly on the cusp of cancellation as well.

But there have been exceptions to these widespread precautions. Last weekend’s annual LA Marathon was held as usual, a truly Looney-Tunes decision.

The first widespread public awareness of COVID-19 arose in late January. That means that it might have been quietly ramping up in China in December or even earlier. There was, as always, a heavy Chinese presence at the recent January CES. I wasn’t there, but if you were and picked it up you’d know by now.

The good news is that the vast majority of those who catch COVID-19 will have symptoms similar to, or less bothersome than, the common cold. Or they might show no symptoms at all. The bad news is that they can still be contagious without symptoms, and those to whom they pass it on might not be so lucky.

About Those 2020 TVs…
While the new 2020 sets from LG and other set makers were formally launched at the recent January CES, they don’t typically ship until early spring. The sets you’ll find in stores today will largely be 2019 models. Not that this is a bad thing. The best time for TV sales runs from Black Friday (after Thanksgiving) to the Super Bowl, but there are always plenty left over, at good prices, as manufacturers and shops make one last push to clear out the old to make room for the new.

But this year the new sets might take longer than usual to arrive in quantity. While many of the best known TV brands are still made in Korea and Japan (LG, Samsung, Sony, and Panasonic — the latter not currently selling TVs in the U.S.), China is increasingly active in world TV markets. But Chinese industry has been severely impacted by the epidemic, with many of its key factories temporarily shut down. And while Beijing is reporting that the worst may be over for China (though still on the upswing elsewhere), it’s hard to say if that’s true or merely a happy face to get the factories open and production ramped up to limit further damage to its hard-hit economy.

Even sets assembled outside of China may be affected. Many of their less proprietary but still critical subsystems, such as power supplies, are likely made in China. We’re not the only country discovering that relying on a single supplier for critical items can be a very bad idea. Most Americans are only now discovering that many of our pharmaceuticals (including 95% of our antibiotics and all of our penicillin) are manufactured in China, with key ingredients for others imported from there as well. If China needs all of the medications it can produce, as they might in the current crisis, why would they sell them to us?

The coronavirus outbreak has been confirmed in more than 100 countries with more than 113,000 infected and just over 4,000 deaths worldwide. While each of them is of course a tragedy we can hope that things will improve, even if they get worse in the short term. If you follow broadcast, Internet, or print news religiously, however, you might believe that the Apocalypse is upon us. Just remember the Prime Directive in the news business, “If it bleeds it leads.” Bad news sells newspapers and increases TV ratings.

But there’s plenty of good advice available on how to minimize the risk without going postal. You should be vigilant, but don’t need to fight over water and toilet paper!

A vaccine will eventually be developed, but will likely be at least a year away. In a world accustomed to instantaneous gratification, those who want to know why we didn’t have one yesterday need to remember that doing important things right, and safely, still takes time. The TV or computer you bought last week was probably still under development two years ago —or more. And it will still be downloading updates a year from now.

HDTV1080P's picture

Thanks Tomas J Norton for the interesting article. I pray everyone stays safe. Keeping people safe from the virus is the most important thing right now. Its ok if the latest and greatest consumer electronics products are delayed a year or so. This would be a good time for most people to stay indoors and watch their Blu-ray collection on their existing display or home entertainment system.

Billy's picture

Isn't it time we reevaluate the idiocy of having almost everything made in one place? What if we have a major war, could we win? We won WWII because we were an industrial powerhouse, could we today? I work in health care, our exam gloves are made in China, will there be enough when the virus hits here? The economics that made Chna what it is also will effect our ability to fight it. So many people live pay check to pay check, will they stay home if ill? If told to spend 14 days at home, can they? Do they have insurance to even get tested? Time to over haul the whole system. I guarantee you, that despite being shut down in Italy, no one will go bankrupt or not get health care. WAKE UP AMERICA!!!!

dnoonie's picture

I work in live events and TV. I'm a "gig" worker, all my gigs for March canceled last week. So as far as I'm concerned if new products are delayed it's no big deal, I won't have the $ to buy new HT gear anyway.

BUT!!! On the flip side I now have lot's of time to enjoy what I have!!! Maybe I'll get caught of on those 200+ disks in my Netflix queue, or those TV series (X files, Farscape) I've purchased and not viewed.