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Cable Gains as HD Awareness Grows

Dec 1, 2003  •  Post A Comment

The high-definition television picture appears to be much clearer for cable than for broadcast.
That is one of the conclusions from a new survey of consumers conducted by Frank N. Magid Associates. It indicated that while over-the-air broadcasters pushed for digital broadcasting and gained the ability to deliver HDTV, consumers still turned to cable and satellite for a clear view from the most advanced technology.
“The subscription television industry has gained a lot in the last year as it pertains to bringing HD to the consumer, and the broadcast industry is just not getting its credit,” said Maryann Baldwin, executive director of Magid Media Futures.
“A lot of digital cable subscribers think they’re already getting digital television, and they just don’t see a distinction between what the broadcasters are doing and what they’re paying for from their cable company,” Ms. Baldwin said.
In fact, awareness of digital television has declined, despite the fact that more stations are offering digital signals to viewers. According to Magid’s survey, awareness dropped to 35 percent of all adults from 42 percent in a similar study a year ago. And awareness of HD programming on cable is growing, while awareness of HD programming on the broadcast nets is shrinking, with 65 percent of consumers aware that the broadcasters had shows in HDTV, down from 67 percent. In contrast, 57 percent of consumers said they were aware of cable programs in HD, up from 52 percent.
The findings are surprising, since the broadcast networks are pumping out a significant amount of HDTV programming. “You’ve got CBS network, just about everything they do in prime time is in HD, and you’ve got like 70 percent of the country that doesn’t know that broadcast is making HD available, so there’s a real disconnect there,” Ms. Baldwin said.
One reason may be that in addition to buying an HDTV set, a consumer has to buy an antenna and tuner to get digital HDTV broadcasts. “It’s still a complicated acquisition. You get the set, but there’s still hoops you need to jump through before you’re watching real high-definition television,” Ms. Baldwin said. “We think it’s a shame for the broadcast industry. We suggested a year ago that this was the year the broadcasters really needed to get on the ball to take credit for all the investment that they’re making.”
Magid’s Ms. Baldwin noted that there has been much more promotion of high-definition television, and that has helped to raise awareness of HDTV to 87 percent of adults from 83 percent in 2002. Nearly all of that growth in awareness comes among women viewers, with 81 percent of women viewers aware of HDTV, up from 74 percent a year ago. But while awareness of HDTV is up, the percentage of viewers who claim to be familiar with it actually declined. The survey found that 61 percent of consumers claimed to be somewhat familiar with HDTV in 2002, but that figure dropped to 40 percent in 2003.
“We think part of the reason is because there’s been a lot of information out there in the consumer marketplace last year, but it’s so complicated and confusing that people say, `Yeah, I’ve heard of it. But the more I read, the more confused I get.’ There’s not a whole lot of information out there that’s clarifying things for the consumer,” Ms. Baldwin said.
Subscribers to digital cable services were more likely to feel familiar with HDTV than satellite customers, analog cable subscribers or viewers who get TV over the air. About 60 percent of digital cable subscribers were either familiar with HDTV or actually had an HD set. More satellite subscribers in the survey had HD sets.
The survey also asked about the types of programming viewers wanted to see in high definition. Naturally, movies were tops, followed by dramas and sports. But in addition to the programming types, viewers were looking for a home theater experience, said Jill Rosengard, managing director at Magid.
Overall, Ms. Baldwin concluded, all of the confusing and conflicting information about HDTV is making viewers hesitant about jumping in because they can’t get instant HD gratification.