HD, sports go hand-in-hand

Tom Ziangas, Nielsen Sports senior VP, discusses a newly released recap of television and sports in 2008 and what the report says about HDTV
According to Nielsen Sports senior VP Tom Ziangas, HD households tend to be more upscale, better educated and watch more TV.

A recent report from The Nielsen Company finds that 2008 has been the year of sports on television.

An interesting portion of the report, “2008 a Banner Year in Sports?” finds that HD is an important influence on TV sports viewership. In fact, the ratings of sporting events in HD homes were 20 percent higher than all U.S. TV homes.

“HD Technology Update” spoke with Tom Ziangas, senior VP Nielsen Sports, about the report to gain a clearer viewer of the report’s HD-related findings. According to Ziangas, although the information relating to HD in the report was based on an analysis of data from March, it provides a fair snapshot of what’s occurred throughout the year.

HD Technology Update: Sports-related categories occupy three of Nielsen’s Top 10 TV genres with HD viewers. I thought I understood why — namely the super sharp images that make you feel like you’re at the game. However, the “sports commentary” category tops the list with the “sports event” category coming in fifth on the list, below “sports anthology.” Why’s that?

Tom Ziangas: There are a couple of things. These are indexes based upon ratings that we have. Our look at the ratings was for the total U.S. versus HD households within these homes. Sometimes the indices may be a function of the ratings.

For example, if you have a program that did a 0.1 in the U.S. and in HD homes it did a 0.2, that’s a one-tenth increase, but from an index perspective it’s a 200 index. Where you may have a sports program that’s a higher-rated program, and it may be doing a 10 rating but is now doing a 12 rating, so that’s two rating points as opposed to a tenth of a rating point, and the index for that would be a 120. So some of these numbers are a function of what the ratings are. In most cases, the sports commentary programs are rated lower than the sports event, so it is a function of math and indices. While that number may seem like a higher number, in an absolute term, increased viewers or compared to ratings, it could be very different.

HD Technology Update: You find that ratings for sports events are 20 percent higher in HD homes compared to the total United States. How does Nielsen define an HD home — one with an HD set and HD programming service, i.e. broadcast, satellite or cable — or simply one that owns an HDTV set?

Tom Ziangas: What we define as being an HD home is being HD-capable as far as the equipment and HD-receivable as far as the programming. If you have an HD set, but you don’t subscribe to programming, we’re not defining that in this analysis as being HD.

HD Technology Update: Does the 20 percent higher viewing of sports in HD homes indicate sports fans are more likely to buy HDTV sets, does it mean more people are attracted to viewing sports presented in HD or a combination of both?

Tom Ziangas: Really, what we are looking at is the profile of these homes. These homes are more likely to be upscale and more educated. What we’ve also seen is these homes are heavier TV tuners. I wouldn’t say just because someone is more attracted to sports, they are more likely to have HD. I would say it is more in regard to whom these HD homes are right now. Again, they are more upscale, more highly educated and they watch more TV anyway. Prior to getting HD, they may have been watching more television and more sports. It’s just due to the characteristics of the people within the HD households.

HD Technology Update: Other research shows there remains a sizable portion of HDTV owners who don’t have HD programming service. For instance, a recent Frank N. Magid Associates poll found that 41 percent of households buying HDTVs within the past year haven’t added HD service. Do you think HD sports has a role to play in encouraging these HDTV owners to take on HD service, whether it’s over the air, cable or satellite?

Tom Ziangas: I think it is multiple things, but I think sports resonate. Just look what happens around the Super Bowl and the NCAA tournament. You have a lot of these electronics stores selling these big HD sets and selling the clarity of watching the game as if you are at the actual venue. I do believe that’s how it is marketed, and I believe that when people get these sets, they want to get as much HD programming as possible to get the clarity. I watch a lot more Discovery, ESPN and a lot more Biography, TNT and HBO in HD also.

HD Technology Update: I didn’t see any mention of the growing popularity of HD sports in sports bars and restaurants. Did you look at the presence of HDTVs in that environment and the impact it’s having on getting viewers — especially those hooked on HD viewing early on?

Tom Ziangas: All the information here is in-home tuning information, which is part of our panel. We currently do not have an out-of-home panel to get that type of information.

Anecdotally, I think once you go into Best Buy, Circuit City or any electronics store and you see these big televisions and the clarity of the picture, I think that’s more of a draw of getting someone to watch. My wife knew almost nothing about HD, but when she saw it, she felt like she was watching a picture with glasses on because things weren’t blurry. So, I think what gets people is once they see it, understand it and have the opportunity to get it, if they have the funds and room in the home for the flat panel, they get it. The price point also is very important. As the price point comes down, we have been seeing a growth of HD over the past year from about 10 percent to close to 25 percent right now over the past year and half.

Those are things I think you will continue to see. Now, the economic downturn may play a part in that, but with digital coming in on Feb. 17, people are buying new services and sets, which may impact HD penetration.

HD Technology Update: Is there anything else you’d like to add about HD and sports?

Tom Ziangas: There are similar trends for things beyond sports. There are networks out there that only are HD networks. Whether it’s HD Theater on Discovery or HDNet that Mark Cuban owns, I think the experience of HD, while benefitting sports, benefits all other programming, too.

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