Buyers in dark over web TV features

Millions of people in the UK are expected to unwrap an internet-ready television set on Christmas day – but industry watchers fear the majority are unlikely to plug them into their broadband connections due to low awareness of the new technology.

In a “mystery shopper” exercise, Informa Telecoms and Media, a consultancy, found that high-street stores including Currys/PC World, John Lewis, House of Fraser and Richer Sounds “fail to educate consumers” about the capabilities of watching online video on the TV sets they are selling to customers.

“Many retailers are ill-equipped to sell these products, with the majority of stores having no internet connection, no dedicated in-store section and poorly trained sales staff,” Informa said. “It seems that smart TV features are an afterthought.”

Many analysts predict that 2012 will be a breakthrough year for on-demand television in the UK, as many devices come to market that offer the ability to watch internet video services such as the BBC’s iPlayer and Google’s YouTube. Apple is widely expected to launch an integrated “smart TV” in 2012, to compete with existing players such as Sony and Samsung.

Next year is expected to see a higher than usual number of people replace their TV sets, thanks to the Olympics and other sporting events.

About 10m television sets were sold in the UK in 2010. The vast majority now being sold will come with “smart” internet capabilities – whether their new owners realise it or not.

“Now more than ever, actually experiencing the user interface and the additional services provided on a TV before buying in a store is paramount,” said Andrew Ladbrook, senior analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media.

“As long as this situation remains the status quo, pay TV providers will continue to benefit and will be seen as the providers of on-demand and catch-up services to the TV.”

In 2012, the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, along with service providers BT, TalkTalk and Arqiva, are finally expected to launch their much-delayed YouView service, a set-top box that will bring together video and other internet services for viewing on the TV.

Analysts say the backing of the UK’s largest broadcasters and internet companies could help to raise awareness about smart TV services.

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