What 3 million people say about digital TV

It seems there’s no turning back for British homes that have seen the ‘digital’ light. In the first of a series, new research, backed by Marketing Week, shows their occupants are happy shoppers.

There are now more than 3 million homes in Britain with digital TV and in-home PC Internet access.

Continental Research, in co-operation with Marketing Week, set up the first online panel – 250 in all – of these information-savvy homes. The researchers have sought to find out how households used their TV and how this ties in with Internet use. Results will be published in Marketing Week.

This first report shows that these 3 million homes are surprised by how much they enjoy digital TV. Half, as shown in chart one, say the service is better than expected, with more than one in four saying it is a lot better.

And many of these homes traded up from analogue multi-channel TV, so their pleasure is not derived from a first-time experience of more than five terrestrial channels.

What is it about digital TV that excites?

First, there is the electronic programme guide (EPG) and programme choice. Most digital homes said these were much better than expected. Seventy-five per cent of viewers surveyed use the EPG to navigate – and it is by a huge margin the most popular way of finding out what to watch.

Over 90 per cent of digital TV viewers say finding out what to watch, and when it’s on, is easy using the EPG – no mean feat when you have over 100 channels to choose from, as is the case with Sky Digital.

The second unexpected bonus is improved picture and sound quality. Few digital TV subscribers expected an improvement when they first made the transition, and most were already happy with their analogue reception.

But two-thirds say sound and picture quality are better than expected and, once experienced, returning to analogue would be a problem.

So it’s very likely these technical improvements will keep subscribers loyal. Indeed, only one per cent of Sky Digital homes say they will change their provider within the next year.

Two other digital services driving satisfaction are pay-per-view movies and online shopping. About half of Sky Digital homes use Open every week, and one in ten use it every day. Although this is still a lower figure than those using the Internet, it’s a high rate for a new and additional online service (our panel homes already had Internet home access).

The final chart shows just how advanced these 3 million homes are. Most access the Internet daily and use it for a wide variety of purposes. It is clearly a routine utility and entertainment medium, and not some specialist service.

Virtually 100 per cent use the Internet every week, and across the total panel, 85 per cent access it three times a week or more. E-mail is the single greatest use, but shopping and amusement are close behind.

Two-thirds say they randomly surf, to find information about their hobbies and interests, or to access the Internet for amusement. However, half regularly use the Internet to check on products or services they want to buy, or to “browse around the shops.”

Results showed what the household’s individuals bought in the past year, and what they expect to buy next year. Books, music and software still dominate, but other goods are starting to catch up.

In the past year, only ten per cent bought a holiday package but over 30 per cent expect to do so next year. Fifteen per cent bought clothing online in the past year – again, 30 per cent expect to do so next year.

Groceries are poised for the same explosive growth.

Finally, we asked the panellists which three digital TV features they would most like to see developed and improved during the next year.

They asked for more programme variety, more advanced EPGs, faster TV interactive access and full Internet access through the TV. These homes have been surprised by what digital TV can provide, and are seeking to expand their horizons even further.

Households of the future will have screens that can be used to surf the Internet, watch football matches and movies or send e-mails.

And any screen in the house could perform these functions. In other words, there would be an end to the current differentiation between TV and PC screens.

John Clemens is chairman of Continental Research

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