While at least a few HD channels should appear in nearly every TV market in the coming years, the majority of the growth will come from the most developed TV markets that have end users on the ground that can afford the expense of a HD capable TV, a digital/HD tuner, a new outdoor antenna or a cable/DTH service. North America will lead the drive forward with somewhat less than half of the forecasted 487 HD channels to be broadcast on satellite in 2009. The next biggest market for satellite broadcast of HD content should be Japan, followed by Australia/New Zealand, Europe and South Korea. The majority of the channel growth will occur from 2006 onward as the availability of HD content improves, HD television set penetration increases, and government deadlines for conversion to digital broadcasts are achieved by the majority of broadcasters in these countries and regions.
A large part of the growth in satellite broadcast of HD programming will come from DTH service providers adding HD channels to their lineups. HD programming will be one of the keys for competing in the pay-TV market, improving premium tiering, and reducing churn. In addition, cable MSOs will move in a parallel path for many of the same reasons. Finally, broadcast of HD free-to-air channels will gradually increase, especially as national broadcasters add more HD to their programming lineups and eventually broadcast in HD 24/7.
Nevertheless there are a number of factors that will work, at least from a satellite operator's point of view, to slow growth in transponder demand related to the broadcast of HD channels. First compression of HD channels is sure to improve and is anticipated to increase from the current industry average of approximately 1.5 HD channels per 36 MHz transponder to at least 3 HD channels per 36 MHz transponder. Further, one of the biggest potential markets for carriage of HD channels on satellite was for the growing number of U.S. local TV channels with HD content. "However the recent DIRECTV announcement of their intention to use the Spaceway satellites for these channels and to buy three new Ka-band satellites (two on orbit and one ground spare) seems to indicate that, at least for this company, they will stay the course of using dedicated satellites as opposed to leasing from commercial operators", said French. "EchoStar's plans in this area are yet to be clearly announced; however, it seems unlikely they will lease more capacity beyond the three satellites from SES Americom in the near future."