Who wants HD? The broadcasters or the viewers? For the moment, both might not be as interested as some people hope for. Last week, the decision by the ProSiebenSat.1 group to suspend the HD simulcast of the two main channels, ProSieben and Sat.1 sent shock waves across the international marketplace. The broadcaster said it will not recommence HD broadcasts till 2010, when more transponder space will become available after analogue DTH switch-off. Instead, it will now concentrate on widescreen. The decision is in line with the position that public broadcasters ARD and ZDF have taken and in our opinion reflects the reality of the market.
Yes, we know that consumers across Europe are embracing HD Ready and even Full HD screens in their homes, but take-up of HD receivers is lagging far behind. Just look at the take-up of Premiere HD in the country: out of the over 3.4 million subscribers only 110,000 take the HD channels.
Perhaps consumers just like the look of the new screens – a major improvement on the heavy, cumbersome CRT sets of the past. This doesn’t necessary mean that they are not satisfied with the current quality of the SD signals, which especially in Germany is very high. Especially with HD Ready screens the difference in quality is marginal and can only be seen by a trained eye.
In countries where HD is a success, mainly the United States and Japan, the added benefit is much greater when compared with the standard NTSC signal. In Europe, PAL has reached such an excellent quality that – at least for the time being – there is little urgent need for improvement. Sure, when watching on very large screens you can see the difference – but who in Europe has a large enough living room to enjoy it to the full extent?
Another reason could be that viewers are bombarded with new technologies and have to make priorities. Most people still have to convert to digital and are spoilt for choice. The recent war between Blu-ray and HD-DVD also didn’t help and given a choice between HD and a PVR I know which of the two technologies adds the most to the viewing experience.
From the broadcasters point of view, there are other considerations: HD adds at least 20% to the costs of production, let alone additional distribution costs for simulcasts, which can treble the bill. There is no way they can recoup these additional costs from advertising income. For the moment, the way forward to HD is for the premium channels to take the lead. They can indeed charge more for an HD product, but I suspect it will be a long road…