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Hisense is trying to shake off its “budget brand” reputation. (Picture: SCMP).

China’s most popular TV brand is hoping to score a goal with high-profile World Cup deal

Based in the eastern Chinese city of Qingdao, Hisense is the world’s third largest TV maker -- trailing behind Samsung and LG. Besides selling its own TVs, the company also holds a major stake in Toshiba’s TV business.

This article originally appeared on ABACUS

In 2018, a wave of new Chinese companies sponsored the World Cup in Russia, hoping to use one of the biggest stages in sport to raise their brands.

But one of those companies was already the third biggest TV maker in the world: Hisense.

Let’s break down an electronics giant you may not have heard of.

Hisense is trying to shake off its “budget brand” reputation. (Picture: SCMP).

More than just consumer electronics

Hisense started life in 1969 as a factory that made radios.

Since then, the company has grown into a behemoth. It makes consumer electronics like TVs, household appliances like fridges, and even dabbled in building a traffic management system for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

But it’s still best known for TVs: It has held the top spot in terms of market share for TVs in China for 13 years, and globally, it only trails Samsung and LG.

So how did Hisense get to sell so many TVs?

In addition to selling its own line of “ budget brand” TVs, it’s also pursued partnerships -- or more specifically, white labeling -- where one company makes a product, and others then take it and sell it under their own brands.

It’s also acquired other brands to help to grow its footprint.

In 2015, Hisense did a deal with the famous Japanese brand Sharp and acquired the rights to its brand in the Americas, as well as a production facility in Mexico.
And in November last year, it did a similar deal with Toshiba’s TV business and bought a 95% stake -- a move many said would help boost Hisense thanks to Toshiba’s advanced technology.

But it’s an approach that hasn’t always worked out.

In 2017, Sharp’s new owner -- Foxconn -- sued Hisense to get back US rights to the name, claiming Hisense was ruining the brand with "shoddily manufactured" TVs and misleading advertising. Foxconn even claimed they violated rules on their electromagnetic interference emissions. Hisense denied the allegations and Sharp ultimately dropped the lawsuit.

Next stop...

But now the company is trying to shake its budget reputation thanks to the high-profile World Cup sponsorship deal and range of new products.

At CES in 2018, the company announced it would be integrating Google Assistant as well as Amazon’s Alexa to some of its newest models -- putting its functionality on par with leading brands like LG.
And at CES Asia it showed off a concept TV that uses AI to act as your virtual football commentator -- using facial recognition to identify players and provide player biographies and statistics.

For more insights into China tech, sign up for our tech newsletters, subscribe to our Inside China Tech podcast, and download the comprehensive 2019 China Internet Report. Also roam China Tech City, an award-winning interactive digital map at our sister site Abacus.