Chinese electronics firm LeEco is buying American TV manufacturer Vizio for $2 billion. The acquisition was announced during a press event this morning in Los Angeles, giving LeEco an instant foothold in the US television market. Under the deal, Vizio will be operated as an independent subsidiary, with the company's current executive team staying in place and working out of its offices in Southern California — sans Vizio founder and CEO William Wang, who is leaving the company. No replacement has been named, but Wang will be taking the reins as chairman and CEO of Inscape, Vizio's data business, which is being spun out into a privately held company. LeEco will own 49 percent of Inscape, with Wang owning the remaining 51 percent. The LeEco deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter of this year.
In what seemed to be more of a eulogy than a press conference, Wang described the company's humble beginnings, and how it had fought through early challenges, parts shortages, and the global financial crisis as it slowly slugged its way to success. "We had to fight through competition from all over the world," he said, before lauding most of Vizio's senior leadership team one by one.
"I have mixed feelings," he admitted about the deal. "As the owner and father of Vizio, I am very reluctant to let it go. But as the CEO and owner of the company, I know this is the right decision to make for our hard-working employees and loyal shareholders."
While LeEco may not be a familiar name to many US customers, the company has been making headlines for several years by trying its hand at pretty much everything in the consumer electronics sphere. Smartphones (that ditch the headphone jack, no less), Android-powered bicycles, electric cars; LeEco has seen them all as opportunities, and the company's aggressive push is matched by the rhetoric of CEO Jia Yueting. He's the one that blasted Apple for being "outdated" earlier this year, not long after using Nazi imagery to set up the company's introduction into the smartphone market.
Vizio, on the other hand, has styled itself as an American success story. In 2012, all but three of the company's 417 employees worked in the US, and its quiet and steady presence let it become a major player in the television space. But the company faced some criticism last year when it was discovered that its smart televisions were collecting information about user viewing habits — data that it was then sharing as part of its Inscape business. As part of the acquisition agreement, the LeEco-owned Vizio will continue to license Inscape's technology for 10 years for use in its televisions, and will also be keeping all of Vizio's current distribution agreements in place, giving it immediate reach into the US market. In fact, according to LeEco the acquisition will make it the "largest internet TV access point" in the world.
This step is just part of even larger ambitions, however. Not only is LeEco building consumer electronics, but it is also creating original content in the form of television shows and films in China, taking a holistic approach to both serving and creating entertainment. That content initiative, Le Vision Pictures, currently makes around 10–15 Chinese-language films a year, and is set to kick off a slate of 20 English-language films anchored by the upcoming Matt Damon film The Great Wall. (Le Vision also previously co-financed The Expendables 2.)