Smaller markets lack the obvious firepower to develop HD, but progress is still being made, writes Julian Clover.
During this week’s Broadband TV News Business Breakfast in Belgrade one delegate asked the HD question. Just where are the HD entrants in the Serbian market? You could swap Serbia for any one of a number of smaller markets and even some of the larger ones.
Outside the UK we have three categories of HD, the premium channels, the international brands and the local public broadcasters. The problem in Serbia is that while the international brands are waiting in the wings, and premium channel HBO could easily extend the HD service it has launched elsewhere in Central Europe, if the infrastructure isn’t there, nothing is going to happen.
It’s almost as if HD is now taken for granted, the trouble is that while that may be the case in the industry at large, the public has still to be convinced. The number of HD Ready displays sold is far greater than the number of set-top boxes to sit on, or more practically for those who want them to stay in place, underneath their flat panel.
If the local public and commercial broadcasters aren’t interested, or simply doesn’t have the available funds, then a significant carrot for subscribers to purchase the additional equipment is instantly removed.
The engines of HD rollout, Eurosport, Discovery, Nat Geo and more recently MTV and History largely produce pan-European or even global content. So smaller markets may have to wait for the local content that many argue is a key element of any TV proposition.
In Serbia it looks as if some of the smaller cablenets will be first to enter the HD market and while they should be congratulated, perhaps for irritating their larger compatriots, the scale will not encourage localisation at any level. We all know that a critical mass is needed in order for projects to get off the ground.
The UK probably has that scale and in Sky a broadcaster that is prepared to speculate to accumulate. Its reward so far has been around half a million HD subscribers, each paying £10 per month over and above their existing package. There are now close to 30 HD channels in the UK market, far more than elsewhere in Europe, Sky having been prepared to invest in the development of the channels on its platform.
But for all the people paying Sky for HD there are many more that grumble about the £10 fee, unaware that Sky is instead discounting the hardware, at least for the time being. It’s these costs that may be too great for the smaller operators to cover and in the ultimate chicken and egg situation everyone needs to jump together.