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LG Display to raise OLED TV panel output sixfold to 10m by 2021

Panel maker bets on new technology that is changing premium TV industry

OLED ThinQ televisions on display in the LG Electronics booth during the 2018 CES in Las Vegas, U.S.   © Reuters

SEOUL -- LG Display said that it aimed to produce 10 million organic light-emitting diode television panels in 2021, an increase of six times from last year's 1.7 million, as it bets all its resources on the new technology which is changing the landscape of the premium TV industry.

Lee Sang-hoon, senior vice president of the company, said that demand for OLED TV panels had increased sharply over the past few years and would explode further in the coming years. The company said that sales of OLED TVs accounted for half of sales in its high-end segment of items of $2,000 or more last year, and is expected to reach 70% of that this year.

"We will be able to produce 10 million, or 20 million OLED TV panels easily as consumers are willing to pay for better products," said Lee in an interview with the Nikkei Asian Review on Wednesday. "We plan to produce 2.8 million this year, and aim to reach 10 million by 2021."

To meet this ambitious goal, Lee said that the company would invest 20 trillion won ($18 billion) in OLED technology by 2020, seeking to generate more than 40% of its revenue from this segment. LG Display said that it would maximize cash flow to fund the investment, taking out affordable loans if needed.

"We [are betting] all on OLED while minimizing our operational investments in LCD," said Lee, referring to the liquid crystal display panels that currently dominate the TV market. "We made this adventurous decision to create new value and products for customers."

LG Display Senior Vice President Lee Sang-hoon (Courtesy of LG Display)

The executive said that there were two critical things differentiating OLED from LCD: its high resolution quality and its innovative design. He explained that OLED's high resolution allowed TV watchers to have a deeper emotional connection with their content, meaning customers were willing to pay more for devices with this new technology.

He also mentioned that the technology could be applied to a wide range of devices, with flexible, foldable and rollable forms. LG Display said 13 global TV makers were using its OLED panels in their premium products as of December, including Sony, Panasonic and Philips, as well as its own parent LG Electronics.

Chinese makers have also shown an interest in LG Display's panels. Skyworth, Konka and Changhong are already using them, while Hisense announced a plan to do so earlier this year.

"China is the largest market, and its customers are willing to pay for big, good and new products. We expect [that the addition of] Hisense, the biggest local player in the premium market with 15% of market share, will contribute to a huge increase in our sales," Lee said.

The veteran executive, who was the chief of the company's Tokyo office for five years between 2005 and 2010, also gave his appreciation to Japanese TV makers for their support for OLED panels.

"Japan is a key axis of OLED TV infrastructure as it produces facilities and materials for OLED panels. Japanese makers and consumers have expressed the hottest reactions, with sales of OLED TVs accounting for 92% in the premium market."

LG Display declined to detail shipments of its OLED panels to individual makers, but analysts beleive that Sony is the company's second-largest customer, apart from its parent LG Electronics. They add that Sony sold about 200,000 TVs with LG Display's crystal sound OLED panel last year, and it will double that to 400,000 this year.

The success of OLED TV panels is especially impressive for LG because it is one of the few sectors in which it has beaten its local rival Samsung, which makes the quantum dot light-emitting diode, or QLED, TV panels. "It was maybe because we were eager to win in the TV market because our mobile phone sector was not as strong as [Samsung's]. I think that such efforts paid off finally."

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