To develop effectively, satellite needs more research into the viewing habits of cable and dish owners

Four million viewers of satellite television are now cabled; 10 million have a dish. And the cabled percentage is growing. Yet BARB – and therefore media buyers – treat them as one. Is this right?

In cabled areas, 22 per cent of homes have cable TV and around six per cent dish; in non-cabled areas 20 per cent have a dish. This high penetration of satellite in cabled areas shows that differences exist, although the cable and dish demographics are similar. Dish homes have a greater preference for televisions – 80 per cent have two or more sets, compared with cable’s 65 per cent. More than 80 per cent have teletext compared with cable’s 68 per cent.

Yet the cable viewer spends more time viewing satellite channels, and watches more TV overall. Last October, the Independent Television Commission’s cable diary study showed a 40 per cent share of cable viewing going to satellite; in dish homes BARB showed only 34 per cent going to satellite. Likewise, the average hours spent viewing TV weekly by cable subscribers was 28; for dish viewers only 23. What accounts for this?

Overall, viewing preferences are similar. In both dish and cable homes, 80 per cent or more of all satellite viewing is of the movie, light entertainment, sports and children’s channels. These are the four core reasons for taking satellite TV, and therefore are the genres that have attracted new channel launches.

But in cable homes the fifth-biggest sector is “other channels” (channels not measured or reported by BARB) which accounts for ten per cent of viewing. Cable viewers are, because of the number of channels, increasingly selective in choice of secondary viewing – viewing other than movies, entertainment, sport and children’s programmes.

Cable-only channels such as The Box (the most successful cable-only channel), The Travel Channel, Sci-Fi, Carlton Select, Performance, Channel One and Live TV are building audience share, helped on the news front by other non-BARB reported channels such as CNN, NBC Super Channel and EBN. And as more channels become available, so the satellite share will continue to grow slowly.

With four of the 14 million satellite TV viewers in cable homes, these viewing differences are important to operators and advertisers. Live TV and Channel One are providing very local TV news programming, with strong appeal, so the local advertising market will also grow.

For the market to develop effectively, viewing information for cable homes is essential. If cable subscriptions are to increase, providing the right mix of channels to satisfy the customer is also essential. Hence the operators need good viewing and appreciation information.

How to provide this is a problem needing to be solved by media researchers – meters are too expensive but can diaries cope with the very large number of channels to be measured? Or is there a new approach? A rapid answer to these questions is essential.

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