According to Cantor Fitzgerald's Brian White (via Barron's), Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) might eventually go after the TV market. He said the market for television sets is about $100 billion per year, and that his firm expects the "Apple TV to sell at a premium."
While the TV market could certainly be a significant revenue opportunity for Apple, this business also has very thin margins. Let me explain.
Samsung generates lots of revenue, little profit from TVs
I had a difficult time finding recent data, but Strategy Analytics said Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF) controlled roughly 26.4% of the global TV market in the fourth quarter of 2013. The two next biggest vendors were LG at 14.4% share and Sony at 14.3%.
According to Samsung's most recent earnings report, the company generated 14.27 trillion Korean won in consumer electronics sales (which includes TVs), but operating profit in that business was just 0.18 trillion Korean won. That's a 1.26% operating margin.
LG's home entertainment division generated sales of 5.43 trillion Korean won in its most recent quarter, but operating margin came in at 0.0%.
Given these operating margin numbers, this is not the kind of business Apple would likely be interested in pursuing.
What is Apple's differentiating factor, again?
Another problem with Apple potentially entering the TV market is that it's hard to see what it would bring to the table in terms of differentiation. It would probably buy display panels from Samsung, LG, or Sharp (direct competitors in the TV business) and integrate them with the guts of an Apple TV to make a smart TV.
Just like what Samsung, LG, and others already offer.
I just don't see the value proposition here, particularly as customers could likely get the same functionality just by hooking up an Apple TV to a run-of-the-mill television set.
While White believes Apple could "command a premium" for its TV set, it's not clear how much -- if any -- of a premium Apple could actually fetch. If Apple can't sell a hypothetical TV set at a premium to its competition, then I think the company's cost structure disadvantage would make it hard to turn a profit selling TVs.
The Apple TV set-top box makes more sense
I'd argue the extent of Apple's TV ambitions is likely to be the Apple TV set-top box. The revenue opportunity from the Apple TV isn't terribly big, but it's enough for the company to see it as worthwhile. Additionally, the Apple TV serves to make the Apple ecosystem "stickier."
Entering the TV set market just seems like a whole lot of trouble for very little profit (in the best case) and little room for differentiation beyond what can be delivered through the Apple TV box.