Over on RegHardware my colleague Tony Smith has written about the takeup of Freeview HD, a figure that’s also been reported elsewhere around the web. The figures come (as do all the ones I’ve used in this piece) from Ofcom’s regular quarterly look at digital television takeup.
There are a couple of key facts that a lot of people have focussed on. The big number is that there are now sixty million Freeview receivers, and Freeview HD is in just under a quarter of a million homes, with 15% of all TVs sold in the first two quarters of this year capable of receiving the service.
Some (including RegHardware) have pointed out that that’s not a terribly impressive figure for Freeview HD, that’s a perfectly valid point. There are various reasons for it, such as the fact that by the time the survey was done (it only covers the first two quarters) coverage was only around 50% of the country, so lots of people won’t have felt the need to buy into it.
And, anyone who’s bought a TV set recently may well feel they don’t want to buy another one just to receive Freeview HD – though of course they could buy a set top box if they really wanted to; the higher cost at launch, and the perceived lack of content might be putting people off too – with one full time HD channel from the BBC, plus the ITV and Channel 4 offerings, many people who weren’t keen on football will probably have decided to wait, perhaps until this autumn when BBC One HD starts, and prices on some kit will have dropped.
What about the recorders?
I think there may also be another factor at work, based on mixture of two things; one is anecdotal evidence, and the other is the more detailed breakdown of the Ofcom figures.
In particular, I was struck by page sixteen of the current report, which shows 153,000 Freeview recorders sold in the second quarter of this year. To put that in to context, here’s a graph that I made, using the figures from the Q2 Ofcom reports for 2008, 2009 and 2010 for DTT DVR (digital video recorder) sales.
Before going any further, it’s worth noting that there seems to have been a slight change in methodology at some point; the 2009 and 2010 Q2 reports contain the following note:
DVR sales include devices that combine DVR and DVD recording functionality.
The 2008 report does not; the figure of 191,000 for 2008q2 is based on the number given in the 2009 report, which does include that note. The original 2008 version has a figure of 115,000, and of course figures prior to 2008q2 will be calculated on that same basis. So, you may prefer to consider only the part of the graph from 2008q2 onwards, as we can be reasonably sure all the data is calculated on the same basis.
Whatever way you take those figures though, you’ll notice two things. First, there is a big sales spike in the fourth quarter each year, just as you might expect. And second – which was what caught my eye – the sales for Freeview recorders in the second quarter of 2010 were the lowest for over two years.
My hunch is that this is to do with Freeview HD. As regular readers will know, I run the Toppy forum, and one of the questions many people have been asking there is “when will there be an HD version?” People who comment on reviews I’ve written, or that I’ve talked to about Freeview HD all asked the same question: “When will there be recorders?”
Anecdotal evidence like this isn’t as good as solid numbers, but I think it’s fairly safe to say two things. Firstly, that lots of people do want a Freeview HD recorder and secondly, that by the end of the second quarter of 2010, there still weren’t any available in the shops.
Why get a Freeview HD recorder? Well, if you’re used to a PVR, then you’re very unlikely to want to switch back to viewing everything live, so a standard Freeview HD set top box, or TV, isn’t likely to appeal very much.
And, if you have a fairly recent HD Ready TV with Freeview built in, and find you’re going to have to spend extra money to get Freeview HD, then you might well decide “in for a penny, in for a pound” and choose to buy a box that will do everything.
We’ll have to wait a while for the next set of quarterly figures, but I would expect to see the number of Freeview recorders climbing again, rather than falling, now that there’s a reasonable range of Freeview HD kit available, though it’ll be six months before we see the figures that include this Christmas, and those are going to be the really interesting ones, with many PVRs to choose from.
So, while those headline figures might have showed only 15% of TV buyers choosing a Freeview HD set, I don’t think things are as gloomy as some make out – I suspect, based on the sales figures and anecdotal evidence, that for a large number of people the real story is that the products they wanted to buy just weren’t in the shops.