California based flat panel distributor, Vizio Inc, has overtaken Sony Corp in the highly contested flat panel television market in the US, after a fourth quarter surge in demand.

The low-cost flat panel distributor shipped 14.3 per cent of all US flat panel TVs in the three months leading up to 31 December 2008, this in turn has boosted them above their big-named rival Sony, who registered a 13.5 per cent share of the market.

This represents a 3.11 per cent increase for Vizio from the third quarter, while Sony on the other hand fell 0.5 per cent to relinquish its ranking and fall to third place.

This isn’t the first time Vizio has upset the larger flat panel distributors. In the first quarter of 2007, Vizio ranked number one in the category after exploiting the oppositions reduced shipments, in preparation for the more important second half of the year.

But this recent announcement is probably more important for the company, due to the fact that the fourth quarter is the peak selling period for flat panel televisions in the US and to only be beaten by Samsung Electronics, who reclaimed the top spot with 20.2 per cent, is quite a remarkable achievement.

The recent uptake in demand for Vizio’s flat panel TVs is said to be in direct correlation with changing consumer spending habits according to the US market intelligence company behind the results, iSuppli.

“This is an indication that in the present tough economic climate, consumers are becoming less brand conscious and prefer televisions that they perceive to have good picture quality and that are less expensive compared to the competition, rather than seeking models with a lot of extra features,” said Riddhi Patel, principal analyst, television systems, for iSuppli.

Patel also commented that Vizio’s success was not only in relation to their cheaper price points but their increasing efforts in marketing and retail strategies.

“Vizio’s success in the fourth quarter was partly due to increasing brand recognition, courtesy of the company’s strong marketing efforts and retail strategy.”

This recent announcement is undoubtedly going to ruffle a lot of feathers among the bigger flat panel brands in the US, especially in an economic time when consumers are cutting back on their discretionary spending and every sale counts.