Friday, 16 November 2012

Smart TV Growth but North America Still Slow to Adopt

A recent study from NPD DisplaySearch points towards an encouraging increase in sales of connected TVs, with growth of over 15% predicted for Europe and Asia in 2012.   The picture in North America is slightly less rosy, however, with sales remaining flat at around 20% penetration. These forecasts for Europe and Asia seem reasonable, given that most large-screen TVs sold today are connected TVs.  But what’s happening  in North America?  I suspect that there are several different drivers behind the trend we’re seeing.

One opinion is that content remains king: the issue is one of how that content gets delivered to the end user.  The growth of free catch-up services in Europe helps drive the growth in smart TVs, because these services can easily be built into the TV.  Even support for paid content via the TV is growing: in the UK we’ve seen deployments from LoveFilm and Netflix, and Sky’s strategy of moving its content to other devices via Sky Go will undoubtedly pay off in time. Asia is seeing similar trends, but here, free content from the web is the main driver.  In both cases, though it’s access to free content that’s getting people hooked.

It’s a different story in the US, where you have on-demand services provided by cable operators through their set-top-boxes or through a separate device such as an Apple TV.  This means that these services are less of a differentiator for TV manufacturers, and so people are less likely to upgrade their TVs specifically for the connected TV experience.

Ease of use also plays a part, in a way that’s often overlooked: the need to switch devices.  If I have some services built in to my TV and others in a set-top-box, switching between them is more effort and inserts a mental barrier (albeit a small one) into the process of finding something to watch.  In my case, this reduces my use of iPlayer on a games console – I’m more likely to turn off my Sky box and pick up a book or use iPlayer on an iPad instead. If these services are built in to the set-top-box in American households, why will people spend the mental effort required to use them on the TV instead?

One other factor that may or may not be important is the adoption of HD TV.  Historically, North America has been at the forefront of HD adoption, with sales in Europe lagging behind.  This could mean that more European consumers are in the process of replacing their TV sets as analogue switch-off approaches, while the reasonably long replacement cycles for televisions (and the current economic climate) mean that many US consumers aren’t replacing their existing HD TV yet.  If this is correct, we may see an increase in the sales of connected TVs in North America over the next couple of years.

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