Hype gone to seed

I actually shook my head this morning while reading a Broadcasting & Cable story in which NBC Sports head David Neal predicted that the summer Olympics in Bejing next year would move High Definition TV to mass market status.

“It will be a signature moment for the adoption of high-definition as a mainstream delivery medium for consumers,” said Neal, who predicts that over 50% of U.S. households will have an HDTV set in 2008.

Um, how do I say this nicely? How about, “I’d like some of what you’re smoking, Mr. Neal.”

First of all, statistics in this area vary widely. A Magid survey last year found HDTV in 15% of U.S. households, while a Consumer Electronics Association study puts the figure at 30% this year and projects it to be 36.5% in 2008. Since the CEA represents companies that sell the things, I think it’s a safe assumption that their numbers are, well, “forward thinking.”

I know very few people with HDTVs, mostly because I run with folks who can’t afford them. I don’t have one yet, although with all the sports we watch at my house, it’s inevitable we’ll get one. Right now, I have better uses for that $1,000, and I don’t think I’m in the minority.

But to suggest that the summer Olympics will be the event that moves HDTV adoption to 50% is, at best, wishful thinking. The economy isn’t exactly humming these days, and the digital switch for broadcasters in 2009 doesn’t require HDTV. I think prices of true HDTV sets would have to drop by half in order for Mr. Neal’s dream to come true.

For broadcasters, there’s a lot riding on HDTV, because it would mean a new closed network in which to do business. That may have been a good idea a few years ago, but I’m afraid things in the world of distributed media have overtaken that idea and that the extremely expensive push to HDTV is now problematic for many broadcasters. It’s certainly not the savior that many felt it would be a few years ago.

I don’t have any doubt that we’re headed for an HDTV world, because content choices are multiplying and the consumers who have it, love it. But this kind of rhetoric from yet another NBC executive is just hyperbole, and that has certainly reached mass market proportions.

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