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Some HDTV Owners Don’t Know It

NEW YORK: A recent study of high-definition TV ownership and viewing demonstrates the ongoing disparity between the two. More people own HDTV sets than actually use them for displaying HD content. That’s the latest from research firm Frank N. Magid Associates.

The DTV transition drove “unprecedented adoption of HDTV sets,” Magid said--from 20 percent of U.S. households in 2007 to 32 percent in 2008.” Adoption continued to grow into this year; about 35 percent of U.S. consumers report owning an HDTV set, and more still say they use a widescreen plasma or an LCD for their primary set, “suggesting that an additional 8 percent of households own an HDTV set but aren’t truly aware of it. This translates to 43 percent, or approximately 49 million households in the U.S. that own an HDTV set.”

Magid said the 8 percent of HDTV owners unaware their TV sets can display in high definition indicates continued confusion among consumers.

“In addition, consumers remain uninformed about the offerings and value of HDTV programming,” Magid said. “Those who describe their home as owning at least one HDTV set and subscribing to HD service remains limited, at 66 percent of HDTV set owners--nearly the same level of service subscription at 64 percent in 2008.”

The percentages translate into about 14 million HDTV sets displaying plain, old vanilla standard def. It’s a bit of a waste of HD programming, Magid’s Maryann Baldwin said.

“The disparity between HDTV ownership and service adoption reveals challenges for programmers,” she said. “Some consumers were driven to purchase HDTVs under the erroneous assumption that they would be prepared for the digital transition--and didn’t buy an HDTV set for the value of the programming in the first place.”

Conversely, the contingent of seemingly clueless HDTV owners also represents an opportunity for HD subscription growth for pay TV operators, Magid researchers said.

“Since marketing buzz has waned after the digital transition, HD is fading as a top-of-mind feature for some consumers,” said Jill Rosengard Hill. “The need for improved marketing is clearly demonstrated by the fact that 13 percent of consumers indicate that they have not seen or heard anything about high-definition television, the highest percentage since this survey was initiated in 2002.”

HD programmers made progress during the DTV transition, with 43 percent of buyers arranging for HD service when they bought their set, up from an average of 32 percent in the past five years, Magid said. They have failed, however, to demonstrate the value of HD programming to legacy owners of HDTV sets who aren’t receiving hi-def fare. (Magid doesn’t specify if over-the-air HD is considered.)

Among the most recent buyers of HDTV sets, 16 percent said they may sign up for satellite HD in the next six months, while 22 percent may sign up for cable HD, suggesting that service providers have the opportunity to pick up another 4.5 percent of TV households as HD programming customers.

Magid collected its data in an online survey was conducted in October 2009 using a nationally representative sample of 1,373 adults age 21 years or more who own an HDTV set.