Confusion over high-def TV dampens enthusiasm

Confusion over high-def TV dampens enthusiasm

Posted 11/21/2006 11:04 PM ET
By David Lieberman, USA TODAY

NEW YORK — Consumers seem to like everything about HDTV — except TV shows in HD.

Only 47% of people buying a high-definition TV set in the past year say they did so looking forward to watching TV shows in HD, according to a study out Wednesday by Frank N. Magid Associates. That’s down from 63% two years ago.

"Some people are content to watch DVDs, and we saw a decent number of new HD owners who are also focused on video console gaming," says Maryann Baldwin, director of Magid Media Futures. About 15% of all homes now have an HDTV set, Magid reports.

Dampening enthusiasm for HD shows: Most cable systems offer only about two dozen HD channels, including local stations. Pricing can be confusing. The technology can be intimidating.

That may not affect holiday sales of HDTV sets. Overall, they should cost about 25% less than they did last year. Some discounters will have a 40- to 42-inch model for less than $1,000.

Yet, with so many owners feeling "not tremendously satisfied" with program choices, Baldwin says, potential buyers "are not hearing any word of mouth or buzz" about HD programming.

A majority of HD owners in the September survey of nearly 1,200 adults rated satisfaction with programming at seven or less on a scale of one to 10.

"That’s pretty mediocre," Baldwin says. "Part of it is because they have to work to find the channels. They’re being placed … in the 600, 700 or 800 channel numbers. Not only did they have to work to buy the set, and work to make the programming arrangements, they have to work to actually tune in to those channels."

About 30% of HDTV owners haven’t even signed up with their cable or satellite companies to get HD channels. Many of them were turned off by an extra fee they’d pay for HD — or thought they’d have to pay. There’s a lot of confusion, because some operators charge for HDTV. Others throw it in for anyone paying the extra monthly fee for the digital tier. And some don’t charge extra for the channels but charge more per month for an HD-capable cable box.

Then there are folks who wanted a sleek flat screen on the wall but didn’t think about wires and gear needed to use it for HD shows. "It’s tough for some people to go the extra mile to get all the hardware to mount a set on the wall and then say, ‘Where am I going to mount a set-top box?’ " Baldwin says.

The study found widespread HD confusion. Many consumers think all digital TV signals give them an HD picture. They don’t.

It also found that many consumers believe that only cable or satellite delivers HD signals. In fact, local stations offer network, and sometimes local, HD shows over the air.

Broadcasters "have not done a good job" of promoting their HD offerings, Baldwin says.

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