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Europe’s TV Viewers Cut the Cord: Free TV Alive And Well

by David Mercer | 10月 14, 2010

Hidden away in the depths of the European Commission’s latest household communications survey is a finding that should scare the 4X out of the cable industry: the percentage of EU27 households using cable TV fell by 4% between 2008 and 2009, from 34% to 30%. To put this in context, that means the cable industry lost around 8 million TV household customers in the space of just 12 months. The biggest winner has been digital terrestrial television. The share of households using digital terrestrial rose from 12% to 23%, while the proportion of those using analogue terrestrial fell from 41% to 34%. Satellite also made gains, increasing by 2% to reach 24% of households, and IPTV rose from 2% to 4%. Observant readers will have noted that we have reached a total of 115% of households. The survey allowed for multiple answers because some hosueholds use a combination of different TV access services, usually because they have terrestrial TV (analogue or digital) for one TV set, with cable or satellite piped to another. Cable’s decline has been little short of dramatic in Benelux. For years, visitors to those countries were told that the “only” way to receive television was through a cable network. Even though cable TV penetration strictly speaking never reached the 100% mark, it was certainly in the 90%+ range for many years. Now, according to the viewers themselves at least, cable is used by only 69% of Belgian households, a decline of 18% in one year. This was mirrored precisely by the increase in digital terrestrial usage over the same period. In the Netherlands, cable usage fell to 75% of homes, with digital terrestrial at 21% by the end of 2009. This is not the “cord cutting” which American cable operators are currently fretting over. Stateside, the hot issue is whether cable (and satellite) customers will switch to internet-delivered, OTT TV. In Europe, the threat from digital terrestrial television is currently much greater and already having a marked impact. Where cable used to provide the de facto option for “free”, commercially funded TV channels, it is losing ground rapidly to over-the-air services. The latter, of course, are genuinely free of charge (except for public service TV licence fees in some cases), in contrast to the “basic” fees cable operators have always charged. Here is yet another indication of the huge structural differences between the US and European markets, which strike me every time I travel between the two regions. A couple of days ago, during a meeting with a well-known US software provider looking to enter the European connected TV market, I saw another sign of how US companies can struggle to appreciate these variations when they visit Europe. It may have been more or less abandoned in the US, but free-to-air television in Europe is alive and well. Client Reading: Global Digital Television Forecast: 1H'10 Add to Technorati Favorites
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