HDTV: Where are the viewers?

Tomorrow, Jan 28, BSkyB will unveil its latest numbers. Analysts are expecting Sky to show another 70,000 or so HDTV subscribers to have signed up during the all-important three months to Dec 31. But some experts are asking whether there’s not a disconnect between HDTV transmissions and viewers, not just in the UK but internationally. How many owners of flat-panel TV sets think they are watching HD?

For example, a recent study from InStat* recognises that while the number of households with an installed HD television continues to grow worldwide, this installed base of households is decidedly biased to two countries: the US and Japan. Further, within the US market, there is a significant gap between HDTV ownership and households utilizing HD programming.

“The number of US HDTV households, defined as households having both an installed HD-capable TV set and also receiving and watching HD programming, increased by almost 40% in 2008. However, the growth rate could well have been much larger,” says the study. “In the US, there are more than 39m households with an installed HDTV set," according to Mike Paxton, an In-Stat analyst. "However, only 22 million of those are HDTV households, meaning that 17 million US households with an installed HDTV set are not watching HD programming."

The ratio of suitable set-owners to actual HDTV subscribers is undoubtedly worse in Europe. InStat says:

• On a global basis, HDTV service remains limited to a relatively small number of countries, primarily the US and Japan.
• At year-end 2008, there were over 36 million HDTV households worldwide, up from 29 million at year-end 2007.
• Even though the number of European HDTV households is rising, it will be 2011 before the number of HDTV households in that region reaches the 10 million mark.
• Cable and satellite TV service providers provide HD programming to almost 80% of all HDTV households. Telco TV service providers and terrestrial broadcast TV service providers provide service to the remaining HDTV households.

InStat recognises the growth during 2008, saying: “The number of worldwide high-definition television households continues to increase. The worldwide total of HDTV households, which are defined as households with an installed HD-capable TV set that also receive and watch HD programming, are on track to increase by 25% in 2008. In 2009, the total is projected to increase by another 30%.”

*”Worldwide HDTV Households: 36m and Growing”