Paid-for television content – whether through cable, satellite or the Internet – is preferred over free-to-air services, even in markets where free programming is more readily available, according to global research from Motorola Mobility, a subsidiary of Motorola.

Motorola Mobility’s Global 2010 Media Engagement Barometer – an independent global study of video-consumption habits among 7,500 consumers in 13 markets by research agency Vanson Bourne – shows that while free-to-air services are available to 67 percent of global viewers, compared to 57 percent for paid-for services, the most preferred TV services are subscription only.

The research also shows that social media is changing viewing experiences. Forty-two percent of viewers globally have had an email conversation, engaged in an instant message chat or used a social network to discuss a program or video while they were watching it. Of this group, 22 percent said that social-media multi-tasking is a regular part of their viewing experience and 61 percent would be prepared to pay more for a service that offered these capabilities.

The future looks bright for high-definition TV products and services worldwide. Of viewers surveyed, 75 percent either own or plan to own an HD TV in the next 18 months and 25 percent are expected to upgrade their TVs to include 3D in the same timeframe.

Though the TV is still central in most homes, viewing habits have evolved alongside consumer expectations of where content is consumed. Just over two-thirds of the sample said it was either quite or very important to be able to access free content on devices other than the main TV in the home; that compared to only 39 percent when asked a similar question for subscription content. This suggests the majority of paid-for content is consumed on one device (the TV) and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

A quarter of respondents said it is important to be able to access free content when out and about; this is even truer in China where 49 percent of respondents said this sort of access is very important.

China, the United Arab Emirates and Russia are the most enthusiastic when it comes to integrating social media into their viewing habits. The Japanese, Germans and viewers in the Nordics are the least likely to chat, use instant messaging or a platform like Twitter or Facebook to discuss a program or video while they are watching it. According to the study, 84 percent of Japanese viewers have never undertaken such an activity. Globally, however, 58 percent of people who have used social media during a TV program would change their service provider if this was offered as an integrated service.

Shopping via television is of interest to 42 percent of viewers globally, followed by chat (30 percent) and updating a social media site (27 percent). Being able to use micro-blogging platform Twitter came in lowest with only 17 percent.

One in five respondents would be interested in a recommendation engine that tracked viewing habits and suggested content based on viewer preference in addition to popular content their friends are watching. There is also interest in a device and service that would allow users to channel all of their digital media (films, photos, music, etc.) through the television set. Viewers also want to troubleshoot issues, giving service providers an opportunity to offer enhanced services.

The average amount of hours spent watching television and video content per week is 17. North America and Japanese viewers watch the most (21 hours each). South Koreans watch the least (13 hours). The average daily video diet consists primarily of scheduled broadcast content (both free and subscription), although 34 percent watch an equal mix of scheduled content, Internet and on-demand services, and pre-recorded content.

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