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Big screens for the big game

Super Bowl anticipation drives up sales of supersize TVs

By Corilyn Shropshire and Erin Chan Ding

February 02, 2013

Mike Brenner plans to turn on a new supersize screen for the Super Bowl.

For weeks, Brenner, 60, had scoured advertisements and searched online for a 70-inch television, but it wasn't until three days before the Super Bowl that he inspected his options in person.

The 70-inch television by Sharp — equipped with Wi-Fi and an X-Gen LCD panel — was on sale for $1,978 through Saturday, down from a regular price of $2,798.

"I knew there would be good prices because of the Super Bowl," he said while shopping Thursday evening at Abt Electronics in Glenview. He closed the deal on Friday, securing a Saturday delivery.

In the days leading up to Sunday's Super Bowl contest between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers, retailers say they are seeing an uptick in sales of supersize TVs — with screen sizes starting at 60 inches — to fans eager to capture that "being there'' experience. And with a ticket price as big as the screen, sales of these uber-televisions are likely to help boost lackluster TV receipts, experts say.

The week before the Super Bowl is the third largest for TV sales, trailing only Thanksgiving week and the last week before Christmas. This year, big screens are expected to give consumer electronics a much needed boost after a tough holiday season that saw sector sales slide 0.6 percent from November to December, according to the National Retail Federation.

The bright spot is large flat-screen TVs, with prices for a 50-inch starting at about $450. But if price is no object, and depending on special features, Abt sells an 84-inch LG for $25,000, while Best Buy offers a Sharp 90-inch on sale for nearly $9,000.

During Super Bowl week in 2012, sales of televisions with screens of 50 inches or larger rose by 25 percent compared with the previous year, according to Port Washington, N.Y.-based market research firm NPD Group. And, in the first three weeks of January, sales of big-screen TVs have doubled from the same period last year, making them the fastest-growing segment in flat screens. Big screens now account for 7 percent of all flat-screen TVs, up from 5 percent last year.

They remain a sliver of the overall TV market, but there's evidence that for consumers, the bigger the TV, the better, said Ben Arnold, director and industry analyst for consumer technology at NPD Group.

"Those ultra-big screens are taking a larger and larger share of the market," Arnold said. "It also shows manufacturers have recognized the opportunity, making more sets that meet the big-screen demand," he said.

As sales of deluxe TVs with even more bells and whistles go up, their price tags are going down, according to Jon Abt, co-president at Abt Electronics.

"This year the 60-inch is the new 55-inch, and the year before it was the 46-inch," Abt said. "As the prices continue to decline, the best-sellers in the large categories continue to grow," he added.

TV manufacturers are dropping the prices on flat screens to keep demand for TV sets up, according to NPD Group's Arnold. "They are trying to compel people to ... buy a new screen, a bigger screen," he said.

The strategy is working — sales of flat-screen TVs rose from 35.7 million in 2011 to 36.2 million in 2012, but revenues slid 7 percent last year, Arnold said. "That's the trade-off the industry is making," he said.

According to Arnold, manufacturers are thinking, "We'll sacrifice on the revenue end because there are accessories we can profit from and get higher margins on."

This year, Abt shoppers are looking for TVs with even more features, Jon Abt said. Internet-enabled or "smart" TVs with built-in apps as well as TVs that can be controlled with a hand gesture or by voice are increasingly popular.

And while the discounts may not be as low as they are on Black Friday, Abt said there's a greater variety of discounts this time of year, from moderate to super low, he said.

Some retailers say they've also seen a surge in TV sales in California and Maryland, thanks to Sunday's showdown.

At a Best Buy store in Sacramento, Calif., store general manager Zoran Terzic said having a team in the big game helps. But it's not the only reason.

"The appetite is just as much there whether your team's in it or not," he said. "People still host those parties; it's part of the fabric of America."

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