Nielsen announced yesterday that a bit more than 23% of U.S. households have at least one HDTV as of November 30. This includes “HD capable” sets that are not receiving HD service. Unfortunately, Nielsen did not report on what percentage do not have HD service, but recent figures from other sources have indicated that it could be as much as half of them.
The report trumpets the fact that this is more than double the percentage from July 2007, when the company started tracking this information. However, I have to think that the television manufacturers will be disappointed by this number; fewer than one in four households have an HDTV. The hope was that the transition to digital TV broadcasts was going to accelerate the purchase of flat panel HDTVs, but it doesn’t appear to have had a huge impact. First, fewer than 25% of the US TV households rely solely on over-the-air television broadcasts. And the recent early digital TV transition experiments have demonstrated that the poor and the elderly are the ones most likely to depend on over-the-air. They are hardly the target market for new televisions.
The cable and satellite subscribers are not going to be affected by the broadcast transition, and the televisions that they have now will continue to work just fine. So there’s no compelling reason to switch to an HD set at this point, and the possibility of higher subscription costs for HD service are a significant disincentive. In the current economy, people are more interested in stabilizing or cutting costs, and paying more in monthly subscription fees does not seem likely for most U.S. households.