Of the 50 million total TV households in Japan, almost 17 million have HDTV, according to an analyst at IMS Research. In contrast, there are 400 million total TV households in China, but HDTV is only just beginning to be rolled out.

Of course, there are major political and historical factors causing such sharp contrast between the two countries. While Japan has been quick to adopt new technologies for decades, China’s adoption of TV technologies is gaining momentum.

Japan’s uptake of HDTV has been driven by Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK), the country’s sole public broadcaster. NHK has introduced HD via free satellite, thus creating a demand for the programming, said Shane Walker, an analyst at IMS Research. But NHK also delivers digital terrestrial with additional HD programming as a pay service.

One big driver of HD in Japan is an abundance of HD programming.

"Broadcasters are on top of things in terms of content, but consumers also purchase the necessary equipment," Walker said.

China’s uptake of HDTV may be driven more by cable.

The country’s primary video provider is China Central TV (CCTV), the state-owned broadcaster, which is slowly transitioning from analog to digital terrestrial. There is no direct broadcast satellite (DBS) operator in the country.

At the March 2008 China Content Broadcasting Networking Exhibition, Dr. Du Baichuan presented some goals of China’s State Administration for Radio, Film and Television (SARFT). Du’s list included launching DBS and starting HD terrestrial broadcast (both near-term goals) and switching off analog by 2015.

The IMS report noted that according to the latest figures from SARFT, the goals are behind schedule.

While CCTV and SARFT move at a bureaucratic pace, much of the potential for HDTV rests with cable. According to a source familiar with a proprietary Screen Digest report, the top five Chinese cable operators are: (1) Hebei; (2) Oriental Cable Network; (3) GuangXi; (4) Shaanxi Cable; and (5) Henan Cable TV Network.

The cable segment in China is expected to be the dominant digital platform for HD programming in the country by the end of 2009, stated the IMS Research report.

According to a March 2008 Communications Technology story, China has an estimated 160-190 million cable subscribers. Many of these subs signed up in anticipation of the 2008 Summer Olympics.

IMS Research reported that digital cable is expected to pass 69 million Chinese households by year-end 2009 and forecast that 3.2 million digital cable households will have the capability of viewing HDTV programming by the end of 2013.

– Linda Hardesty

Read more news and analysis on Communications Technology‘s Web site at www.cable360.net/ct/news/.

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