52% of Americans watching HDTV

TV Arts


Crystal-Clear, Maybe Mesmerizing

HOUSTON — Fully half of the United States is now watching television
in high definition, the fastest adoption of TV technology since the
VCR hit store shelves in the 1980s.

With the adoption comes good news for networks and Hollywood studios:
HD lures viewers to TV for longer periods of time. According to The
Nielsen Company, high-definition households watch about 3 percent more
prime-time programming than their standard-definition counterparts.

The sudden growth in high-definition, or HD, viewing has happened with
little fuss for consumers, who simply swapped out their TV sets and
set-top-boxes. But behind the scenes, HD is nothing short of a
revolutionary upgrade for the television business, involving hundreds
of millions of dollars of investment in new cameras, studios and
control rooms. It has even changed the way local anchors apply their
makeup here in Houston, a particularly popular market for HD.

“High-def is like being under a magnifying glass lit up by a
flashlight,” Sherry Williams, an anchor at KHOU-TV, the CBS affiliate
in Houston, exclaimed on a recent morning.

But as HD adoption grows, it is apparent that there are still two
kinds of TV production: one that enables viewers to see individual
blades of grass on a baseball field, and one that is little changed
since the 1960s when color television took off.

Studio executives privately complain about local stations that cannot
yet afford to receive high-definition broadcasts of shows. And
producers say they cannot yet take full advantage of the wider,
crystal-clear medium because so many viewers still have outdated TV

High-definition TV is produced in the widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio,
allowing a more cinematic look. But television news graphics, for
instance, still have to be squeezed into the 4:3 ratio of standard

In Houston, which counts a higher proportion of HD viewers than any
other market in the country, except for Washington, D.C., viewers
rarely comment on the quality of KHOU’s signal, unless some sports
event is not being carried in HD, that is.

“For the consumer, it was very easy,” Susan McEldoon, the station
president, said of the transition.

KHOU was the first Houston station to upgrade to HD three years ago.
“It’s such an expensive endeavor,” she said, with a
multimillion-dollar investment in new cameras, computer servers and
other equipment.

New sets for the newscasts were also built, and new graphics packages
were created. Since then, KHOU’s competitors have all converted to HD,
with the final station completing its transition this month.

In some cases, the networks have had to play catch-up with the local
stations: just last month CBS started broadcasting its national
morning show in HD. This month the longest-running television show in
the United States, “Meet the Press,” introduced a fully HD set.

Ms. McEldoon said she did not know whether HD had specifically helped
her station’s ratings; the conversion was simply a matter of keeping
up with changing industry standards.

HDTV standards were adopted in the late 1990s, but it was not until
late 2008 — as the price of the TV sets steadily dropped — that a
quarter of Americans were seeing the results at home. Now Nielsen says
that 51.7 percent are watching in high-definition. Those households
have higher income levels and are more likely to own DVRs and video
game consoles.

Some networks — especially ones catering to sports and film fans —
benefit more than others. ESPN, HBO, Nickelodeon, the NFL Network and
Showtime are all among the biggest gainers of audience share in HD,
according to a Nielsen analysis of ratings data for The New York

Fox even promoted the impact of HD at an upfront presentation to
advertisers in New York last week.

“While wonderful new gadgets are introduced all the time, research
shows that the consumer’s first purchasing choice is a big, beautiful
flat-screen HD television,” said Peter Rice, the chairman of Fox
Broadcasting. “And they’re not buying them as furniture. These sets
bring the audience closer to the action, and closer to the emotion.”

In an odd way, HD may limit the number of channels that viewers turn
to, because once they can watch programs in HD, they have little
desire to watch anything of a lower quality. “HD is the new basic
cable,” said David M. Zaslav, the chief executive of Discovery
Communications, which owns Animal Planet and TLC, among other

The result has been a rush to upgrade by channels big and small, all
crowding onto the HD spectrum allotted by cable and satellite
companies. “It helps to be in the neighborhood” with other HD
channels, said Philippe Dauman, the chief executive of Viacom, which
owns MTV and Comedy Central. “It certainly enhances viewership.”

Patricia McDonough, the senior vice president for planning, policy and
analysis at Nielsen, said the swift adoption of high definition
confirmed that “people are constantly looking for the best picture
they can get.”

As families bought their first HD set, Nielsen data showed a migration
out of the bedrooms and kitchens, where Americans traditionally watch
TV by themselves, and back into the living room, where the biggest and
best set traditionally sits.

Now, as families buy additional HD sets, “I expect we’ll see people go
back the other way,” she said.
I love it when people use statistics to misunderstand simple cause and 
effect style results.  If Nielsen did the study on the amount of TV viewing 
before and after a household buys an HDTV, I might buy into the conclusion 
that HDTV is coaxing people watch more TV.  However, comparing the amount of 
TV viewing for households with HDTV and those without it *REALLY* only 
represents what should have been an obvious conclusion right from the start: 
people that watch more TV are going to be quicker to adapt to the latest TV 

Now they use a roller instead of a brush?

All this money being thrown at a dying entertainment platform.  Ah well, 
they can still use the equipment when they are 'broadcasting' on a YouTube 

I'm not sure I agree with that.  A person might not want to watch an SD 
broadcast of an NFL game after watching one in HD, but I doubt the person is 
going to stop watching scripted reruns on cable simply because all that 
stuff is still in SD.

Lots of hype with almost no added content?

I feel sorry for all these local news stations spending millions to upgrade 
to HD when it will be obsolete in less than a decade - replaced by 
3DHDTV...or even 3DHDTV broadcast in 4, 5 ,or 6 colors rather than just 3.
agreed.  Causation v Correlation.

I actually agree with the original assertion.  At least from MY
experience, myself and my friends have upgraded >2< ways when we got
HD.  First is the HD (duh), but secondarily, we got much larger
televisions (73" for me, 46", 50"-56" for my friends).

Watching HD and very quickly getting accustomed to it, you DO lose
interest in something NOT in HD.  It was MUCH worse when there were
still analog channels and they was all that analog noise and color
smearing, but even now, it's a bit frustrating to watch in SD.  Does
it ELIMINATE it as an option?  No.  But it does have an effect and
some of my friends actually have their guides set up for only the HD