A snapshot of global TV sales suggests that the format has stagnated. In the first half of last year, according to retail research organisation GfK, 104.7 million TVs were sold globally, down 3.7 per cent on the same period a year before.
However, a very different picture emerges when one drills down into regions, formats and demographics. While some formats and traditional ways of watching are dying, others are rising rapidly.
A few startling examples were presented last week in Lisbon at the IFA Global Press Conference 2017, an event that previews Europe’s largest consumer electronics show, IFA, taking place in Berlin in December.
“In Italy, 25 per cent of TV sets are located in the kitchen,” said Jürgen Boyny, Global director consumer electronics at GfK. “This means there is a market for small screen sizes and for lots of different viewing behaviours.”
The statistic may well be indicative of social activity revolving around the kitchen, but it also suggests growth in new locations as new formats of device and new forms of content make it appropriate for other spaces.
“This creates potential for multi-ownership, people buying another TV for children’s bedrooms, holiday apartments or even the kitchen.”
The numbers show that the trend is already taking off in some European countries. In 171-million households with TV on the continent, 321-million TV sets are installed. The dubious honour of the biggest appetite for multiple screens goes to Norway, with an average of 3.1 TV sets per viewing household.
However, the assumption that this is a factor of the many months of darkness in Scandinavia doesn’t apply: Norway’s neighbours don’t feature on the list. Next comes the United Kingdom with 2.7 sets per household, and France with 1.8. Both Germany and Italy boast 1.5 sets per household, and Poland features with 1.2.
This is all good news for the industry, says Boyny, as it means there is extensive market potential for selling multiple TVs.
The real opportunity, however, lies in the growth of specific formats of TV, and this applies in South Africa too.
“We are seeing sustainable growth into bigger screen sizes, 55-inch and above, but 32-inch still has the biggest share and is still growing in units.”
It is these smaller TVs that are invading new spaces, as they are idea for kitchens, children’s bedrooms and other smaller areas of the home beyond the living room. Smaller screen sizes, below 32-inch, have become a must-have for the many holiday apartments in southern Europe, meaning that these formats are seeing substantial demand in Mediterranean countries.
However, there are three specific trends driving growth within specific segments in Europe: large-format TV sets above 60-inches, which have grown from 1 per cent of TV sales in 2014 to a projected 4 per cent this year; 4K or Ultra High Definition (UHD) TVs, which have grown dramatically from a mere 2 per cent to 30 per cent; and the jewel in the crown, Smart TV, which has grown more slowly but off a much higher base, from 43 per cent to 53 per cent.
The latter is beginning to make an impact in South Africa as well, and is allowing for video-on-demand, like Netflix and ShowMax, to migrate from mobile devices to TV sets. The challenge, says Boyny, is to “bring the younger generation into the world of the big screen” by showing them that platforms like YouTube offer a better experience in this format.
“What is next in TV is continuous development, driven by new content and easier access to content. At present, for example, it is not easy to type in a website address on the remote control, and we need easier access. Consumers want more than traditional content, and they will get apps for different and new kinds of content on Smart TV.
“A connected TV should be more than only entertainment; it should support people in their daily lives. If a child is sick, why is it not possible to follow a class on a big screen at home? For older people, why is there no fitness or health app on the TV? This is also the future of TV.”
As if in response to Boyny’s call, Michael Zöller, Samsung vice president and head of visual display for Europe, asked the audience at the IFA press conference: “How can the TV integrate seamlessly into modern homes and lifestyle?”
He had an answer, too: “For example, making a TV that is not only a TV anymore, but a piece of art.
With that, Samsung unveiled the latest version of its upcoming Frame, which has been shown in prototype since early this year. It is an ultra-thin large-screen TV that looks like a picture frame hanging on a wall. When not being viewed, its display transforms into a work of art – more than a hundred have been curated by Samsung – so that it blends almost seamlessly into walls already decorated with paintings.
The frame itself can be customised to fit in with a colour scheme, and the display will be matte rather than glossy, so that it looks more like a painting or photo than a screen image. It is due to be launched in Europe by the end of May, and will roll out across the rest of the world in the following weeks.
It won’t be cheap, but it will be yet another format that will ensure the ongoing health of the market for TV sets.