Digital users shy of interaction

Digital TV operators are seeking to boost their revenues through interactive services, but viewers are more interested in channel choice and picture quality.

Interactive TV services have so far failed to make any real impact on digital viewers in the UK, according to research by BMRB International.

Digital TV launched in the UK two years ago, and three in ten adults now have access to it at home. This figure is expected to continue to grow, at least in the short term, as cable companies speed up the roll-out of their services.

But, the survey of 1,600 digital viewers identifies a number of challenges facing platform operators such as Sky Digital and ONdigital.

While platform operators have achieved much so far, they face the challenge of increasing the revenue from existing subscribers, as well as continuing to increase the number of subscribers. Pay per view programmes and interactive services both have a large part to play if the platforms are to meet their targets.

BSkyB has set itself a target that its interactive services will account for half of a &£100 increase it is seeking in the average yearly income from each direct-to-home satellite (DTH) subscriber over the next four years. But interactive services have yet to make a real impression on digital viewers.

Most viewers, according to BMRB, feel the main benefit of having digital TV is a greater choice of channels. Improved picture quality was mentioned by 15 per cent, while just over a tenth were pleased that they could watch channels catering for their personal interests. Only four per cent of digital viewers cited interactive services as a main benefit of digital TV.

It seems the potential of digital TV technology has yet to be realised. By far the main attraction of digital TV is the programming, which was also true for analogue multi-channel television. Few of the additional benefits of digital technology are actually seen as beneficial by current subscribers.

What is clear is that low usage of interactive services is not caused by poor awareness. The majority of Sky Digital subscribers are aware of the shopping, e-mail and entertainment services available to them through Open. About 90 per cent said they had visited Open services.

The most popular interactive service is games – almost half of those viewers who had used Open visited the games area, and a quarter of Sky Digital viewers play games on the platform at least once a week.

Gaming is an area for potential revenue growth with some manufacturers already producing prototypes of set-top boxes that contain the functionality of games consoles. This would enable gamers to download new titles through their TV set rather than buying software.

Digital viewers are also receptive to the idea of playing along with TV game shows such as Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? More than half of digital viewers interviewed said they would be either very likely or quite likely to play along with a quiz show using their remote control.

The shopping areas on Open have not attracted the same level of traffic as the games area. Shopping areas which attract the highest proportion of Sky Digital subscribers are those for home electrical goods, CDs and videos, and toys and gifts. But none of these areas have been visited by more than a third of subscribers.

Only about one in eight Sky Digital viewers has ever bought anything through digital TV, the same proportion as cable digital subscribers.

Those who have shopped through their TV have made repeat purchases, buying an average of three items in the past six months and spending about &£10 on each item.

The most commonly bought items are CDs or cassettes, books and games software – similar items to those which are most regularly bought through the Internet.

While BMRB expects the proportion of digital TV shoppers to increase, existing viewers do not show great enthusiasm for t-commerce (television).

Only seven per cent of digital viewers said they were very likely to buy anything online through their TV in the future, while 20 per cent said they would be quite likely to use the service for this purpose. Almost half (44 per cent) said they did not intend to buy anything through digital TV.

One reason for this lack of enthusiasm is a low level of confidence in the security of credit card transactions through this medium – 20 per cent of digital viewers felt these types of transactions were not secure. Convincing potential shoppers of the security of t-commerce is one of the challenges facing operators of iTV services.

At present, at least in viewers’ eyes, that interactive services are only a marginal part of the digital TV offering. While the content, convenience and relevance of interactive services are being improved, there is a long way to go before usage and, therefore, revenues are significantly increased.

Factfile is edited by Ãâ¦se Hedberg. Gary Austin, senior associate director of Media@BMRB, contributed

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