World Cup debut for TV advance misses kick-off

LONDON - World Cup soccer is supposed to showcase the next generation of television to millions of prospective buyers, but with the tournament in Germany only three months away that marketing plan is quickly fading.

Analyst Vincent Letang, who has just released a report on the subject, says only about 100,000 European households are likely to watch the world's biggest sporting event on sharper, more vivid high-definition television (HDTV) because of delays developing the technology needed for TV set-top boxes.

"The set-top boxes are arriving now, but it's a little too late to put them in sufficient amounts of living rooms," said Letang, of market research firm Screen Digest.

"This World Cup milestone is partly missed, but in the mid- and long-term it doesn't jeopardise the take-off of HDTV in my opinion.

"The HD proposition will come progressively but, ultimately, high-definition will become the standard quality of television."

Screen Digest is forecasting that by 2010 about 50 million TV sets will be HD-ready and about 11 million European households will be watching TV in high-definition quality.

The report said about that many people were already watching HDTV in the United States by December.

Despite the long-term optimism, it was the World Cup soccer that was expected to be the prime marketing tool for TV-makers and broadcasters hoping to sell Europeans on the picture quality, especially noticeable during sports and films.

Industry executives have said the 1974 World Cup was a similar catalyst for the switch to colour TV from black and white.

Broadcasters including Britain's BBC, Germany's Premiere, TPS in France and Sky Italia in Italy will be showing games in HDTV, but without the right set-top boxes, not all the "HD-ready" households being touted before the tournament will be able to watch in the new format.

The focus will shift to ensuring bars broadcast the matches in high-definition so large numbers of viewers catch a glimpse of the quality, even if it is away from home.

But TV-makers still face an uphill battle selling the HD sets: they cost nearly € 2000 ($3800).

- REUTERS

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