Research: Pay-TV trumps free-to-air

Paid-for television content – whether through cable, satellite or the Internet – is preferred over free-to-air services – even in markets where free programming is more readily available, according to global research from Motorola Mobility.

Motorola Mobility’s Global 2010 Media Engagement Barometer – an independent global study of video-consumption habits among 7,500 consumers in 13 markets by research agency Vanson Bourne – shows that while free-to-air services are available to 67 per cent of global viewers, compared to 57 per cent for paid-for services, the most preferred TV services are subscription only.

The research also shows that social media is changing viewing experiences. Forty-two per cent of viewers globally have had an e-mail conversation, engaged in an instant message chat or used a social network to discuss a programme or video while they were watching it. Of this group, 22 per cent said that social-media multi-tasking is a regular part of their viewing experience and 61 per cent would be prepared to pay more for a service that offered these capabilities.

According to Motorola, the future looks bright for high-definition television products and services worldwide. Of viewers surveyed, 75 per cent either own or plan to own an HD television in the next 18 months and 25 per cent are expected to upgrade their TVs to include 3D in the same timeframe.

“The research clearly shows a changing television landscape, one where subscription services are becoming mainstream, augmented by social activities revolving around Internet chat and networking channels,” said Bill Ogle, chief marketing officer, Motorola Mobility. “As we advance further into the Internet Era of TV, the ability for service providers to differentiate their offers will become even more crucial as consumers look for extra value from their subscriptions. The good news is that, based on these findings, consumers are willing to pay for the services providing the value.”

Though the TV is still central in most homes, viewing habits have evolved alongside consumer expectations of where content is consumed. Just over two-thirds of the sample said it was either quite or very important to be able to access free content on devices other than the main television set in the home; that compared to only 39 per cent when asked a similar question for subscription content. This suggests the majority of paid-for content is consumed on one device (the TV) and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

According to Ogle, the findings suggest that the huge increase in the availability of video content is leading to viewers tiering their viewing habits in terms of preference, notionally based around payment. “Yes, they’re watching content on laptops and other devices, but they are still staying loyal to the television set. This is a powerful message for the service providers. Stickiness does exist, providing all parts of the offering are attractive to subscribers.”

One in five respondents would be interested in a recommendation engine that tracked viewing habits and suggested content based on viewer preference in addition to popular content their friends are watching. There is also interest in a device and service that would allow users to channel all of their digital media (films, photos, music, etc.) through the television set. Viewers also want to troubleshoot issues, giving service providers an opportunity to offer enhanced services.

“The research clearly shows a diverse market. While there are definite trends emerging, each region has its own challenges and opportunities thanks to cultural, technological and economic factors,” Ogle said. “Service providers need to develop a keen understanding of their customers’ needs in each market and be agile enough to roll out services that meet specific requirements and desires. This means having the content and delivery platforms in place to react to customer demand, rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach,” he concluded.

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