ComReg hints at two-speed TV market


THE LATEST review of the communications sector by regulator ComReg hints at the emergence of a two-speed home entertainment market, with four-channel television homes remaining awkwardly analogue, even as an army of mobile and tablet adopters races to consume content online.

Four months ahead of analogue switch-off, the great television upgrade project appears to be under way, but progress is slow. As of May 2012, ComReg’s report notes that approximately 7 per cent of TV homes – and there are 1,577,000 of them in Ireland – have Irish digital terrestrial television (Saorview).

It is homes that don’t have any television reception other than a soon-to-be-defunct analogue signal for the four Irish terrestrial channels that are the main target of Government’s digital switchover campaign. These are the constituents who will be the ones writing to their TDs to convey their snowy screen rage if they are not made aware of the need to upgrade and persuaded to do so between now and October 24th.

Quoting estimates from a Nielsen television audience measurement survey conducted on behalf of ratings body TAM Ireland, the ComReg report states that there are 192,000 TV homes in Ireland that receive just an Irish analogue terrestrial reception, or 12 per cent of the total TV homes.

This number has fallen 17,000 from 209,000 over the past two years, a decline of 8 per cent. Perhaps expecting a faster rate of conversion, ComReg notes that this number “only” decreased 8 per cent. There is still 192,000 homes for the switchover campaign to reach, but some stickiness in the numbers is to be expected – there is a reason why this 12 per cent of TV homes never took up the services of cable and satellite providers and remained analogue-dependent.

A more convincing embrace of non-analogue services may also have been interrupted by a recession that has inevitably made consumers more wary of both hardware upgrades and the addition of new subscriptions to their quota of bills.

Elsewhere in the ComReg report, there are numbers that suggest the dawn of the truly digital television home is close at hand, but not quite here yet. Access to personal video recorders (PVRs), in other words a Sky+ Box or UPC Digital Video Recorder, continues to increase, for example, but at a slower pace than before. PVR ownership reached 43 per cent in May 2012 – up just 12 per cent over the last three years.

PVR usage, in conjunction with the rollout of online catch-up services, may provide an explanation of another interesting statistic in the report – while three-quarters of television homes have a DVD player, this has declined by six percentage points over the past two years.

Ownership of games consoles, meanwhile, has increased by a terribly modest three percentage points to 38 per cent of homes over the last two years.

This reflects a generally subdued mood in the international videogame industry that has seen gamers switch their affections away from games console hardware and towards casual games on mobile and tablet devices.

Indeed, the popularity in Ireland of both smartphones and tablets has surged, judging from ComReg’s data on the use of wifi.

Having emerged to provide internet access to “nomadic laptop users in airports and other public places”,wifi is, as ComReg notes, “being used by a broader range of players”.

Over the past year, the number of wifi hotspots has risen 25 per cent, while wifi access points are up 12 per cent.

Most significantly, the number of wifi minutes consumed doubled over the year and rose 24 per cent compared to the “Christmas” quarter of 2011. The ability of mobiles and tablets to cannibalise other methods of media consumption is likely to be a feature of future reports.