World Cup: U.K. HD Broadcasters, Retailers Anxiously Await Impact

Whether it's all a lot of wishful thinking and shameless hype, or some perceptive marketing strategies about to unfold, the real test of the lure of the month-long World Cup for potential HD set owners is upon us. With the world's soccer matchups off to a running start (literally) on June 9, and with several broadcasters (cable, DBS and some terrestrial) heavily promoting HD coverage in the U.K. for months, there still has yet to be any dramatic last minute demand for new sets. Not yet, anyway (although HD sets continue to sell on a steady basis).

DBS firm Sky ramped up its HD programming (sports and entertainment) this week, albeit, not without a lot of dissatisfied HD subs who may not get their boxes in time for World Cup play. For Sky, it's a matter of too much of a good thing. Rather than consumer apathy, the DBS broadcaster is trying to deal with a waiting list of hopeful HD box owners now reportedly approaching 45,000 dwellings (HD Notebook, May 17 and May 10, 2006). At last word, some 17,000 of those homes can probably expect to not get HD boxes in time for the June soccer kick off.

Published reports in Europe say while many potential HD subs may not get their HD sets or STBs in time for the soccer classic (or even Wimbledon in late June), British pubs and private clubs are showing a sudden interest in getting HD-equipped for the June 9-July 9 matches. And according to one distributor, size does matter: Surveys suggest the larger a pub's HD monitor(s), the more alluring it will be for pub viewers/customers.

Nonetheless, some sales reports seem a bit too good to be true. According to Dixons Stores Group, its Currys outlets have been selling one HDTV every 15 seconds (presumably not in the same store). (The store chain says the steady demand for HD sets pre-dates the final marketing push for the World Cup.) But another retailer, Excite IT, does not think there will be a noticeable increase in demand in the weeks ahead. It predicts a surge in sales only when the BBC begins terrestrial HD programming.