IBC profile: David Eun, executive vice-president, global media, Samsung
By Kate Bulkley
September 21, 2012
The South Korean electronics company is thinking outside the box about connectivity ideas for the near future, but it's not alone
It is often said,and usually true, that by the time the world becomes fascinated with a particular trend, then those at the cutting edge have already invented the next big thing.
The hot device on the stands for the 50,000 television executives at this month's IBC broadcasting technology get-together in Amsterdam was the connected TV, but the true trendsetters were discussing connecting everything. That is, not just syncing your laptop or your mobile to your favourite TV programme, but how to create a new eco-system of connectivity that will involve most of the electronic devices in the home, including the fridge.
Among those thinking this was the new executive vice-president of global media for Samsung Electronics, David Eun, who gave his first official appearance in his new role at IBC where he fleshed out an all-embracing vision with, of course, Samsung devices at its heart.
As the head of the new global media group and an adviser to the president of Samsung's mobile group, Eun is a leader in the concept of creating a new means of electronic distribution that encompasses more than just the obvious communication devices. Currently, the hype is about all the entertainment screens (such smartphones and laptops and, increasingly, televisions) being connected to the internet, but Eun sees a bigger picture – all of those devices and more being connected to the internet and to each other.
Samsung is not the only consumer electronics firm to be thinking beyond hardware – LG and Sony have also launched smart TVs loaded with apps as well. But Eun is well-placed to have this kind of a strategic vision because Samsung sells a lot of screens: it has been the leading seller of TVs for seven years now, which is more than Sony, and in the US Samsung sells more each year than its next three competitors combined. The company has also more recently become a powerhouse in mobile phones, outselling Apple's iPhone for several quarters, which has only added to the acrimony between the two companies over patent disputes, especially since the recent US court decision this summer that went against Samsung, awarding Apple $1bn in damages. Samsung's latest smartphone, the Galaxy 3S, shipped 20m in its first 100 days, while Apple's new iPhone 5 sold out online two days after its 12 September launch.
Eun won't discuss the patent suit, saying that he sees his job to build on Samsung's device distribution prowess. "All these screens are connected to the internet but they are not yet all connected to each other," he said. "Once we connect all these devices to each other we will effectively have one of the world's largest platforms for distribution content, services and advertising."
The question is can Samsung create an "ecosystem" of software, hardware, services and customer support with the same kind of success as Apple? According to David Mercer, vice-president of digital consumer practice at Strategy Analytics, Samsung has not yet proven that purchasers of its TVs will also remain loyal to the brand enough to also purchase a Samsung tablet and mobile phone. "The different branches of the company need to work better together in consumers' minds," said Mercer.
Eun, a 45-year-old Korean-American and a former executive at AOL, Google and NBC, was employed by Samsung only in January, but has since begun to set out his stall to help take the South Korean electronics giant in a new strategic direction in terms of its future focus. Of course, Samsung will continue to manufacture and innovate its hardware products – it spent $9bn on R&D last year alone – but he is also thinking about the company's software developments and he's been meeting with companies and creatives around the world to match up relevant content and services that can be tapped into via the company's own device network. He is also talking about making some strategic investments in companies with services or software that will help build up the appeal of Samsung devices. He said he spends as much time in New York and Silicon Valley as we does in Korea and clearly with the trip to Amsterdam he is looking at Europe as well for both partnerships and acquisitions to build on the approximately 2,000 apps that Samsung already has on its "Smart Hub" on its connected TVs. "Samsung hasn't had to do lots of acquisitions historically because of its scale and share of talent," Eun said. "But acquiring other companies is a way for us to accelerate our entry into the content services space."
Eun talks a lot about the "power of the distribution network", ie the ability to sell lots of devices quickly. One reason for this is that Samsung has embraced a more "open" ecosystem than Apple in terms of its approach to payment and content, using both Google's Android and Microsoft's Windows 8 as well as a new alliance with Intel called Tizen, which is an HTML 5-based platform for apps. "At Samsung I have understood the importance of distribution and the importance of proximity to the user," said Eun. "One the things that has blown me away about the opportunity is that Samsung creates more devices – and so we have more touch points with consumers – than virtually any other company on the planet."
And for Eun it's not just the usual TV and phone suspects he is talking about, but other white goods products like refrigerators and windows, which Samsung also makes. "We already have windows that are also displays and they have virtual shades," explained Eun. "There is a world, and it is not far away, where the mirror above the sink in the bathroom is a display and is connected to all the other devices that we make." Eun says that he already can see the day when his young kids say to him: "Daddy do really mean you used paper and magnets on the refrigerator to communicate with Mom? Why didn't you just put a screen there?"
With his background in Silicon Valley, Eun is also keen to see the TV set evolve into a more easily updateable device and he spoke at IBC about Samsung's development of an "evolution kit" for that will be used to upgrade TVs already in the market to move them more to the kind of replacement cycle more typical of smart phones, laptops and tablets. "Our TV sets are increasingly modular," said Eun.
Samsung may be thinking outside of the box about connectivity ideas for the near future, but the company is certainly not alone. The demand for smart technology devices is increasing almost exponentially – the demand for connected devices is booming, while second-screen app providers like Shazam and Zeebox are causing a stir in terms of pushing the current boundaries of connected and socialized content. "Regardless of where you start now – on the content or on the hardware side – you need to understand both," said Eun. "There is no silver bullet but there are important paths to pursue and that's what we are doing."