Study Reflects Changing World of CE

Back in the late ‘90s, my father often missed taping some of my mother’s favorite television shows on their VCR because the videotape ran short. So my siblings and I bought my parents one of the first subscription-based DVRs. “It saved our marriage,” my mother often told me.

That was also the year of the first CE Aownership survey (Consumer Electronics Market Potential/, February 1999), and some of the featured devices included VCRs, 27-inch analog TV sets, portable cassette players and cordless phones.

The 13th Annual CE Ownership and Market Potential Study, released in May, reflects a much different world for consumers, retailers and manufacturers. Products tracked in the report include many that weren’t even in the original benchmark study, such as Bluetooth headsets, Blu-ray disc players and e-readers.

Every year the ownership study is one of the most popular CEA reports, it not only looks at the number of CE products that people own, but how much they spend on those products and what they intend to buy. Since the report is produced annually, it is easy to compare various years and products.

The top CE products U.S. households plan to but this year are HDTVs, smartphones, digital cameras and laptop computers. In 2010 the average U.S. household spent $1,179 on CE devices. Each household owns about 24 CE products.

Some things, though, haven’t changed in the last 12 years.

The benchmark study changes with the times, but one product has remained a constant: televisions are still the top CE device consumers own, with 96 percent of households owning at least one. But this year, 40 percent of the TVs in U.S. households are HDTVs, which have a much sleeker look than their analog cousins of 1999. Internet-connected TVs and 3D TVs, both included in the study for the first time, are driving video growth.Cell phones loom not too far behind with a household penetration rate of 86 percent. Newcomers to the CE marketplace were among the least owned CE devices (less than one in 10 households): Internet connected TVs, 3DTVs, soundbars, digital media receivers and tablet computers.

We’ve also seen decreasing price points for several products. HDTVs dropped from an average unit price of $731 in 2009 to $628 in 2010, a 14 percent decrease. Average unit prices for e-readers dropped 37 percent last year, fueled by increased competition in this market segment.

Many products in the 1990s may have had just one function, but consumers expect their products to multitask today. Televisions have to reach out to the Internet and home networks to deliver movies, photos and music. More than 29 million households (25 percent) subscribe to movie rental services, up 40 percent from 2010. Wireless phones serve as a GPS, music player and a camera. Consumers are looking for retailers that are knowledgeable about a variety of products and how they interconnect.

And speaking of connecting, the 2011 study shows more than one-third of households now own a smartphone.Smartphone ownership has doubled since 2008, growing from 20.5 million households to more than 46 million in 2011. And nearly half of all households expect to own such a phone by 2012, a testament to its increasing affordability and versatility.

When my family bought that DVR back in 1999, it was one of the first products we purchased online from the manufacturer (sales folks in our local store knew nothing about the product, so we had to do our own research). Today, we have social networking sites, apps and more to lead us to new products.

But people still seek CE products that inform and entertain, and that will be just as true in our future consumer ownership studies as it was for the 1st and the 13th .

Find the full 13th Annual CE Ownership and Market Potential Study in the CEA store. The quantitative study was administered via telephone interview to a random national sample of 2,033 U.S. adults between Jan 27-31, 2011.