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Smart TV plays catch-up for online viewing vs connected TV boxes, consoles and PCs

Smart TV ownership is growing fast but set-top boxes, games consoles and PCs are still the most popular way to watch TV and films over the internet.

More than five per cent of British homes have a smart TV, and with sales doubling in 2011 to a total of 2.9 million since 2010, says communications watchdog Ofcom.

But smart TV remains the minority choice for getting online content to a TV, with 15 per cent of homes using a connected set-top box like TiVo or Freesat HD, 11 per cent using a games console and the same amount using a PC or laptop.

Online TV use for smart TV and via STB or console, Ofcom CMR 2012

Online TV viewing on smart TVs vs internet-enabled devices connected to a TV, Ofcom 2012

Smart TV: smoke it when you’ve got it

Around half of the public surveyed by communications regulator Ofcom said that smart TV features weren’t important when they bought their TV, but two-thirds have since used their internet connected-features.

In the Communications Market Report for 2012, Ofcom adds: “Research shows that some consumers were attracted by features specific to smart TVs. Twenty per cent of respondents said that the range of online services available was a factor motivating their choice.

“Fifteen per cent of respondents wanted to stream films and programmes straight onto their TV, and the same proportion said that the size of the screen, compared to that of a computer, would allow them to view internet content more comfortably in a group.”

A third of smart TVs still aren’t connected to the internet, however, suggesting there’s a barrier the TV manufacturers must overcome to help TV owners get the most from their kit.

Reasons for buying a smart TV, Ofcom CMR 2012

Reasons for buying a smart TV, Ofcom 2012

Smart TV: video killed the social media star

Catch-up TV viewing dominates our smart TV activity, followed by streaming TV and films – with social networking, Skype and shopping at the bottom of the heap.

“Smart TVs and internet-enabled TVs are perhaps seen as better suited to activities like watching catch-up TV. This reflects the similarity of the viewing experience to that of conventional television, with the internet functionality of the set used to give greater choice and control than with linear services,” Ofcom adds.

“Conversely, smart TVs and internet-enabled TVs might be seen as less well suited to activities usually undertaken individually or privately, such as online shopping and social networking.

“However, connected-TV technology is still developing. Applications like Zeebox use a second screen, such as a tablet or a smartphone, to allow engagement with interactive features, without disrupting content on the main screen. This kind of innovation could potentially encourage a change in habits among users of smart TVs and internet-enabled TVs.”

Catch-up TV audiences, Ofcom CMR 2012

Catch-up TV audiences, Ofcom 2012

It’s good news for catch-up services, which seem to be stalling in popularity – more than a third of UK adults (24.8 million) with home internet watch online catch-up TV, but usage increased by just 2 per cent over the past year.

The BBC’s iPlayer still dominates catch-up usage, with an audience of 7.8m unique users per month, compared to about 2m each for ITV Player and 4oD, while Sky Player and Demand Five barely crack the million-user mark.