TV: 'Reasons to be cheerful'
Chris Forrester

It is all too easy to end up reporting bad news day after day. But Nick Simon, a senior number-cruncher at market research specialists GfK says there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful, even though UK consumer confidence is at its lowest levels for 20 years. It seems Brits are buying flat-panels and Blu-ray players like never before.

And as far as the UK is concerned, with sales of vision/audio consumer electronic (CE) equipment, while it is true that sales fell in 2008 (2%) having risen every year since 2000, the number was still huge (at £6.1bn, compared to £6.29bn in 2007). Indeed, the signs are that 2009 may not be too bad in terms of CE sales. Although they generally fell every month last year compared to the equivalent month in 2007, this January (2009) they rose by 7.9% over the same month in 2008.

As to the shape and style of UK buying habits of flat-panel TV sets, it is fair to say that ALL volumes are up, but consumers are really loving GfK’s ‘Super-large’ 33” and above sets (2008 volume of 2.52m units, compared with 1.79m in 2007). Add all the sales up and 2008 saw sales of a massive 8.7m flat-panel units compared with 7.3m in 2007 (and 4.3m in 2006).

GfK’s data shows that the usual UK pre-Christmas sales ‘boom’ for flat-panels was modest in December 2008 (up 1.7%, 8.5%, 13.7% and 6.7% in each of the 4 December weeks), when compared with the same period in 2007. But this year so far has been extraordinary, with the January 2009 sales seeing sales volumes up a spectacular 47%, 44.1%, 30.9%, 31.6% and 19.8% in the individual weeks, when compared to the same weeks in 2008. Volumes are also up in February.

Nick Simon stresses that this year’s Easter falls very late when compared with 2008 and so will skew the data, but he says highly competitive prices and with “full HD” (1080p) sets now accounting for 25% of all sales, the signs are good for continuing sales buoyancy. January also saw 94.1% of all flat-panel sales include a built-in digital tuner.

Simon explained that Blu-ray is finally taking off in the UK, helped by falling prices. Average price of a Blu-ray player at the beginning of last year was £333. The average price in December 2008 was £189. It had been lower (at £178.70 in November) but currency exchange rates have not helped. As to player volumes, some 86,100 units were sold in December, almost double the November sales volume (47,600) and well ahead of October’s 30,500.