No Way Do Two Thirds of Americans Have HDTV. No Way.

Sorry, but I’m willing to bet this piece of research is completely wrong. I’d want to see the actual questionnaire, but here’s what I’ll assume until then:

Many, many, many people have no idea whether or not they have HDTV. Two main reasons:

  1. There is a serious lack of understanding among non-techie respondents about the terms “digital,” “high definition,” and “HDTV.” I’ll bet $20 that at least 20% of the population thinks they have HDTV because they bought a $40 conversion box for the digital transition.
  2. Because for years now, everything from network dramas to local newscasts has been opening with an onscreen logo that says something like “in HD where available,” or “presented in HD,” just like they used to do the exact same thing for stereo … only now they’ve also gone and incorporated it right into their station logos.

That’s right. Viewers with old 4×3 standard definition TV sets are constantly shown on-screen graphics that, in combination with the fact they bought conversion boxes, has them convinced they’re watching HDTV:

“Of course I have HDTV! It says HDTV right there on the screen!”

It’s difficult to research a topic when respondent confusion is this widespread. It’s not completely impossible, but it’s really, really hard. I can think of a couple of ways to try to do it, but they’re so cumbersome (as in, “look behind your TV and tell me the model number”) that they’re just not going to work.

Oh, and let’s not forget that there’s also God-only-knows how many people — this would include many of our parents, I’ll wager — who have HDTV sets but are watching standard definition broadcasts on them.



Filed under data quality, Market Research, TV

16 responses to “No Way Do Two Thirds of Americans Have HDTV. No Way.

  1. meliarae

    I’ve seen this trend in a media-tracking study we conduct several times a year… but we also recognize the fact that MOST of these supposed HD-owners have no clue what they are talking about (like you say). In fact, we saw HD-ownership dramatically spike after -you guessed it- the transition to digital broadcast. So the more appropriate headline would probably be “2/3 of Americans Have or Think They Have HD TV… but 2/3 of Americans are also idiots.”

  2. Nice reality check. And LMAO at Meliarae’s comment!
    : )

  3. Nice comments about your fellow citizens. I know for sure that I have HDTV, I did my research and bought the new set and cable service.

    I see this makes me the 3rd commenter, and since “…2/3 of Americans are also idiots,” what am I to conclude?

    This seems to be another example of how self-reported data can be unreliable when compared to actual measurement (example: “Are you overweight?”). One way to check the result would be to estimate the number of HDTVs sold in the past 2 years and compare. There’s no indication this was done. Based on the press release dutifully parroted by infogroup, the appropriate inference is “two-thirds of Americans are under the impression they have HDTV” and not much more.

  4. It would be interesting to compare to sales, though of course, they’re going to be skewed because people buy more than one, though you’d still be able to average it across the total number of households, similar to the way every American man, woman, and child eats sixteen pounds of beef each year — even the ones who don’t eat meat. (I made the 16 pounds number up just now, but I know stats like that exist.

  5. Well, no, wait, now, Mike — I don’t think anyone here, me included, is saying that people are idiots — amusing idea for a headline aside. Meliarae first says that most of these people just have no idea what they’re talking about, and that doesn’t mean they’re idiots. My dad isn’t an idiot, for instance, but I’d rather go swimming with cats taped to my head than walk him through just about anything related to using a computer; I’m not an idiot, but he probably feels the same way about me and carpentry.

    People just aren’t really equipped to answer this question; there’s really no simple way of asking it in a phone interview. Online, you can at least show pictures of representative 4:3 and 16:9 sets, maybe even ask what brand of TV they have and then show specific models and ask what theirs looks most like — but if you ask people if they have HDTV, they’re going to say they do, because their screen has been telling them so for years.

  6. I used to work in the market research department of a consumer electronics company and I can confirm that people do not know what they own. This extends beyonds HDTVs to other consumer electronics as well. You can minimize confusion with short explanations (instead of just listing the equipment), pictures (if clear differences between product types), and by pretesting the question for clarity. Still expect some level of confusion….

  7. With respect to the 2/3rds idiots, I know at least one of the first responders here isn’t even American, so we need to clean out this data but good 😉

    I have three HD sets so sales would be tough to gauge.

    Satellite and cable companies could help here because they know who has what because the simply charge us MORE for the HD signals (thank you DirecTV very much for that) Outside of that, I don’t think the numbers would be big enough to influence because over-the-air/antenna HD has probably got to be the worst.

  8. meliarae: “but 2/3 of Americans are also idiots.”

    researchrants: “Well, no, wait, now, Mike — I don’t think anyone here, me included, is saying that people are idiots ”

    RR, you and I are in close agreement, except for that idiot thing. Too many folks are prone to second-order inferences that don’t hold up. Maybe some folks just don’t care if they have HDTV.

  9. Paul Jaeger

    Another point to think about is that unless the show or movie was recorded with an HD recording device, the broadcast wont be HD. Makes you wonder how many broadcasts on HD channels are/were recorded in HD.

  10. travelatude

    I’m an American, and think Mike might have gotten a bit sensitive about the ‘2/3 of Americans are idiots’ comment. If you think of it in a wider context, through the understanding that at least 2/3 of Brits are also idiots, it’s really not so offensive. Let’s face it, there are lots of idiots out there in that big, bad world. Thankfully, there’s all kinds of stupid, so we can at least be idiots in our own unique cultural way, meaning Brits have their own brand of stupid, as do we.

  11. Nice Article. I too have friends that don’t know the difference between HDTV and standard definition television. I tell them if they would like more information on HDTV check out my website:
    Here visitors can learn about HDTV, DTV, 3-D TV, HD audio, and much more.

  12. I am dutch but the same thing applies to us……
    Idiots all over the place and I cannot blame them since technology is going too fast to keep up

  13. Jess Amberson

    That is so true though I’ve seen people of the old generation per say confuse HDTV more then others.

  14. Yes I have to agree many Americans have no clue. I see it everyday at work. They all walk in their own little worlds and are just to busy to pick up on anything new. Ever go try and buy a new car? The car dealers know, they throw numbers around so fast the average American can’t handle it.

  15. I’m late to the party here, but what I would add is that many services like DirecTV, U-verse, etc. all offer HDTV as a premium option and that may skew the poll results.

  16. Pingback: Taking Points Off For Not Catering To The Well-Off | K. T. Bradford

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