Flat screens mean that HD is for all, but someone has to pay, writes Julian Clover
Of the buzz technologies of the moment, and we know that these are mobile TV, IPTV and HD, it is the high definition television format that is emerging as the leader. You can largely disconnect DTT from the list, along with any forecasts that predict how many homes will have digital terrestrial by 20 whatever, as its success is completely obvious in any country that has begun the switchover process. Somewhere there must be some studies from the 1960s predicting success for 625 lines in favour of 405 lines, though these probably sold badly in North America.
The numbers assigned to flat screen TVs might be predictable, Strategy Analytics this week recording that in 2007 sales of LCD and plasma TVs will reach 73.7 million units, generating revenues of $104.9bn. It is not so much the numbers, though important, but the speed of adoption and according to Strategy Analytics 71% of those sold are now HD Ready. The market is expected to peak in 2009.
It follows that with an HD Ready set, consumers will want to do something with their viewing, and improve the picture quality. We’ll overlook the surveys that say that many people already believe they are watching HD by owning an HD set. The troubling stat come from Germany, where six million HD Ready sets have been sold, but only 60,000 subscriptions have been taken out to Premiere’s HD services. It is hardly surprising, Premiere has but two HD channels, though the same receivers could be used to view HD content from ProSieben and Sat.1.
There are two HD stories to follow at the moment. The first are the tests taking place across Europe, the CSA in France this week sanctioning more, in Sweden, Malta and of course the lack of anything concrete over DTT in the UK. But all the time pay-TV operators are upgrading their capability to allow the introduction of HD on their networks. Telenet looking to run services in Flanders next year, even as it rival Belgacom prepares to do the same.
The key to it all is content, not just from the pay-TV channels, but now from basic cable channels; Discovery, History Channel, National Geographic and now MTV will all shortly have content available. This has brought pressures on carriage fees as the broadcasters, not unreasonably wanting to recoup some of their investment, are looking to force up the prices. The platforms have to pass it on, meaning the consumer pays more, but are the returns the potential to ever so slightly squeeze the brakes on HD take-up when the alternative is to position the pay platforms as the place for new technologies and a better viewing experience.