Chinese online video and consumer electronics heavyweight LeTV is getting ready to enter the U.S. market with a number of products, including an Android-based smartphone, a bike with an integrated GPS device as well as smart TVs, a 4K video streaming box and a VR headset. The company could introduce, and possibly even start to sell, its products to U.S. customers as early as this week.
LeTV is little known in the U.S., but has emerged as a significant player in the Chinese online video market. Last year, LeTV generated an estimated $1.6 billion in revenue with online content as well as sales of smart TVs in China. Earlier this year, it launched its first smartphones in the country.
LeTV Holdings vice chairman Zhang Zhao said at Variety’s recent Big Data Summit that the company plans to bring its phones and TVs to the U.S. as well. “We consider ourselves a global company,” he said.
Recent teasers posted on LeTV’s own website and social media accounts suggest that the company may be looking to sell a number of additional products to U.S. consumers: LeTV published videos to its YouTube account last month that briefly show off the Le1 Pro smartphone, a VR headset, a smart bicycle dubbed the Buzzard Super Bike and its Super TV.
A number of these products have also been approved by the FCC in recent weeks, giving us further clues as to what LeTV is up to. Earlier in October, a VR headset based on LeTV’s smartphone passed the FCC. And at the end of October, LeTV gained FCC approval for two smart TV sets, with one featuring a 55-inch LED screen, and the other coming in at 65 inches. Both TV sets will deliver a 4K resolution, and ship with two sets of 3D glasses. Both will also come with a smart TV remote that features an integrated microphone for voice search.
In addition to its smart TVs, LeTV also got the FCC approval for a Roku-like streaming media player. The LeTV Box U3 is also capable of streaming video in 4K, and also comes with a remote control with voice search. However, the user manual included in the FCC filing mentions that “currently, only Mandarin is supported in voice control.”
That may seem like a major limitation, especially if LeTV is trying to compete with devices like Apple TV, Roku and Fire TV. However, focusing on Chinese expats first actually seems to be part of the company’s strategy. LeTV has long emphasized content as a driver for device sales, and LeTV VP and GM JD Howard told Variety earlier this year that the company may at first concentrate on Chinese-language content when it enters the U.S.
There are more than three million people who speak Chinese at home in the U.S., according to census data, and many are looking to watch content in their native language. In addition to licensing and producing Chinese content, LeTV has also been investing in the production of U.S. movies and titles that appeal to both audiences. Just this week, the company’s content subsidiary Le Vision signed a two-picture deal with the “Lion King” director Rob Minkoff.
LeTV isn’t the only Chinese consumer electronics giant looking to enter the U.S. market with its products. The company is closely competing with Xiaomi, which has become the No. 1 smartphone seller in China within just a few years through a direct sales model that lets consumers order devices online, cutting out retailers and carriers to keep device prices low. LeTV is using the same model in China, and is apparently looking to take the same approach as it enters the U.S.. The company’s nascent U.S. ecommerce website Lemall.com has been teasing a big unveil for this coming Wednesday.