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Nielsen: HD Content Lacking

HD viewers are far happier with the picture quality of their new HDTV displays than with the programming choices they can watch on them, according to a new survey of HDTV households from media-measurement giant Nielsen.

In a survey of some 511 HD households, Nielsen found that 85% thought the picture quality of their HDTV sets was either above average or excellent. But only 39% of these regular HD viewers gave the same rating to the available selection of HD programming.

Nielsen senior vice president Steve McGowan said viewers’ relative unhappiness with HD-programming choices could be attributed to the heavy promotion of new HD channels on their standard-definition counterparts. While the new channels being rolled out this fall by satellite and cable operators might be frequently promoted during primetime viewing, they are often not carried by HD viewers’ cable or satellite providers.

“HD channels don’t have the same heavy penetration, and that alone leads to lesser satisfaction,” McGowan said. “They know there’s more out there, and it’s like, ‘Hey, when I am getting this channel?’”

Not surprisingly, Nielsen found that sports and movies were the most popular HD programming, as 42.8% of respondents said they watched HD sports and 38% tune into movies, followed by scripted dramas (28.1%), documentaries (23.8%), scripted comedies (19.4%), reality programming (11.1%) and music (9.6%).

ESPN HD scored as the most-watched source of sports programming, and HBO led in the HD-movie category. CBS HD was the most-watched network for HD scripted dramas, as well as comedies. Discovery HD Theater was the most popular network for documentaries, and it also ranked first for picture quality, ahead of CBS HD and NBC HD, which tied for second. Fox HD led in reality, while PBS led for HD-music programming.

The survey didn’t break out viewing of HD news, although both ABC and NBC have had morning news shows in HD for more than one year (ABC since November 2005), NBC offers its evening news in HD and 55 local stations offer HD newscasts. McGowan said 55% of respondents said they had watched local HD newscasts, although Nielsen didn’t ask about the frequency of their viewing.

The survey also showed that most viewers get their HD signals from cable or satellite, just as they did in the analog, standard-definition world. A total of 60% of respondents get HD cable service, while 31% get their HD from DirecTV or EchoStar Communications. Only about 6% indicated that they received HD signals through an over-the-air antenna (the remaining 3% of respondents didn’t know who provided their HD programming or wouldn’t say).