Report: Millions of HDTV households need HD service

Tue, 11/24/2009 - 7:30am
Brian Santo

There are millions of potential customers out there with HDTVs that are not getting HD video, representing an opportunity for video service providers.

The conclusion is indirect, derived from statistical information about HDTV ownership, some of it self-reported by consumers, but by the calculation of Frank N. Magid & Associates, there are at least 14 million U.S. households that have HDTV sets but no HDTV programming.

The organization starts with growing adoption of HDTV sets. At the time Magid compiled its report, 35 percent of consumers reported owning an HDTV set.

An additional group of households described their primary TV set as plasma or LCD and widescreen, but not HD. Consumers continue to be confused about their television reception and display capabilities, the firm observes. So Magid assumes an additional 8 percent of households own an HDTV set but aren't aware of it.

So the company calculates HDTV ownership at 43 percent, or approximately 49 million households.

Meanwhile, those who describe their home as owning at least one HDTV set and subscribing to HD service is holding just about steady. The number was 64 percent at the close of 2008, and it’s now at about 66 percent of HDTV set owners.

Magid said this translates to at least 14 million households with HDTV sets but without programming service.

There seems to be a bit of a fudge factor in that “at least.” We multiply 49 million by 0.66, subtract the result and get 16.6 million. Still, even with approximate numbers, there does appear to be a big opportunity.

“This reveals a major opportunity to increase programming subscriptions and to close the gap between set buyers and service adopters through improved marketing and education,” said Jill Rosengard Hill, senior vice president of Magid. "Since marketing buzz has waned after the digital transition, HD is fading as a top-of-mind feature for some consumers."

The need for improved marketing is clearly demonstrated by the fact that 13 percent of consumers indicate that they have not seen or heard anything about high-definition television, the highest percentage since this survey was initiated in 2002.

While HD programming service still lags significantly behind set adoption, HD programming service providers have made progress in the pace of conversion from buyers to subscribers, with 43 percent of buyers arranging for service when they bought their set, up from an average of 32 percent in the past 5 years, Magid reports.

However, service providers have not demonstrated the value of HDTV service to the one third of "sideliners" – those who own an HDTV set but don't subscribe to HDTV service. Forty-two percent of sideliners admit that "options are not worth the fees," and one-third cite cost and affordability as the primary reasons for not buying service. Consumers are increasingly satisfied with HDTV sets simply for the design, with 32 percent saying they "like the way the set looks; don't need HD programming," compared with 25 percent in 2008.

When asked if there's any chance they may eventually arrange for HD programming service, 16 percent of these most recent HDTV set buyers say they may sign up for satellite HD in the next six months, while 22 percent may sign up for cable HD, suggesting that service providers have the opportunity to pick up another 4.5 percent of TV households as HD programming customers.

Magid’s online survey was conducted in October using a nationally representative sample of 1,373 adults age 21 years or older who own an HDTV set.

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