Analyst Bruce Leightman mentioned earlier this month that HDTV has a 35% penetration rate in the US. That’s higher than DVRs (roughly 25-26%), but still a far cry from reaching most American TV households. Which leads me to the question: What have we learned from the folks that actually are watching high-definition television? Because with so many more people to convert, maybe we should take some early lessons into account.
As it turns out, Multichannel News just completed extensive research on HD viewing patterns. The resulting article is worth a full read, but here are the three themes I took from it, and from Leightman’s analysis at the Motorola Video Users conference.
A lot of HDTV owners are still very confused. Leightman claims that a lot of people with HD sets are not even watching HD content. They don’t have HD service, haven’t switched to HD channels, or are just generally bumfoozled about how to access real HDTV.
And that’s on top of all the non-HDTV owners who are also very confused. Maryann Baldwin from Magid Media Futures points out that “a significant portion of consumers” believe they’ll get HD automatically when the digital transition occurs. (Not remotely true.)
HD is a Driver of Other Services
Earlier this month Leightman stated that the biggest driver for video services is HD, and apparently other researchers agree. Pat McDonough from Nielsen found that a lot of homes buy HD sets, DVRs and digital cable service all at the same time. HD also appears to keep consumers hooked on new video services. While it was easy to get rid of digital service in the early days if you found you weren’t watching a lot of the channels, fewer people are willing to get rid of a digital HD tier now after shelling out money for a pricey HD set.
HD Doesn’t Change what People Want to Watch
It turns out that HD viewers do watch more sports programming than standard-def viewers, but that seems to be a correlating factor (lots of men with higher incomes buy HD sets) rather than a causative one. As a whole, consumers watch the same stuff whether they own an SD television or an HD television. In a survey Leightman did last year, only 27% of HD viewers regularly looked to see what was available on the HD tier before looking for non-HD programming. Adriana Waterston from Horowitz Associates agrees. In a survey her firm did this year, 80% of respondents with HD said they are “watching the same programming as before [they had HD].”
What does all of this mean for video service providers? Educate more, keep pushing HD, and don’t drop the ball on content. HD is great, but only if it’s available for the shows people want to watch.