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Digital Divide: Global Household Penetration Rates for Technology




Beginning of the year is the time when I update various technology data I collect and publish. It is no secret that one of my passions is the spread of technologies into the Emerging World markets, across the so-called Digital Divide. Late last year we had some great updated numbers from the ITU [International Telecommunication Union] about household penetration rates for such technologies as TV sets, PCs and internet use. I have plugged those numbers into my model with many other fresh data elements from sources such as the World Bank, UN, and various national regulators like Ofcom in the UK. I am happy to be able to share some very interesting numbers, not just of how many actual devices are in use, but also what is the reach of those devices.

The Industrialized World i.e. what often is called ‘the West’ i.e. Europe, USA and Canada, Oceania and the advanced countries of Asia i.e. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong etc. have a combined population of about 1.2 Billion people [17% of the planet’s total population of 6.9 Billion], living in 480 million households. That means we have a household density of 2.5 people per household, on average.

Global Digital Divide. Source: United Nations

Across the digital divide there are 5.7 Billion people [83%], who live in the ‘Emerging World’ countries of Latin America, Africa and less-affluent parts of Asia, such as China, India, and Indonesia etc. These countries were recently called ‘Developing World’ countries, but that term is no longer preferred. The older more colonial and more offensive terms that were used, include ‘Third World’ and ‘Underdeveloped’ or ‘Undeveloped’ countries. Please if you do refer to these numbers, remember to use the preferred term now, of Emerging World countries. There are 1.32 Billion households, giving a density of 4.3 people per household. It should be noted immediately from the beginning, that 370 million of those households are without electricity, so about 28% of the households in the Emerging World markets, are for all practical purposes unable to adopt any technologies at all. 1.6 Billion People on the planet [23% of the total population worldwide] lives beyond the reach of electricity.

In the Industrialized World we have 630 million TV sets, and 98% of our households have at least one TV set, i.e. 470 million homes have television. Of those that have TV, 34% own 2 or more TV sets. When we measure the audience, we find that in the Industrialized World the total TV audience is 1.05 Billion people [88% of all who live here].

Evolution of TV

Across the Digital Divide, in the Emerging World, there are 970 million TV sets in 950 million households. 73% of all households have at least one TV set and of those that do, 2% have 2 or more TV sets. The audience who watch TV in the Emerging World is 3.15 Billion people.

When we add the numbers together for the whole world, we find that 89% of all households worldwide have television [to me, that is an astonishingly large number but it’s clearly true by all counts]. Those 1.42 Billion households have 1.6 Billion TV sets in use, serving a viewing audience of 4.2 Billion people [61% of the total population of the planet].

While we are on TV, let’s look at cable TV and satellite TV, two most popular pay-TV side of television. In the Industrialized World, out of all households with TV, 64% have pay-TV with an audience of 670 million. In the Emerging World that drops to 35% of TV households, serving an audience of 55%. Across the planet, 50% of all households have cable TV or satellite TV, with a total paid subscription base of 900 million, reaching a viewing audience of 2.6 Billion people.

Examining the other big broadcast medium, radio yields interesting results. In the Industrialized World, there are 2.2 radio receivers per capita, so we have 2.6 Billion radio receivers across 480 million households and radio penetration is 100% of all households. There are on average 5.4 radio receivers per household in the Industrialized World [and remember, the radio in your car counts as one of these]. The reach of radio is all people of radio-listening age and ability i.e. 1.06 Billion.

In the Industrialized World, radio has reached all households with electricity but the number of radio receivers is not that great, with only 1.5 radios per household and 0.2 radios per capita. At 1.4 Billion radio receivers, in the Industrialized World radio will reach an audience of 3.14 Billion listeners.

Worldwide we have 4 Billion radio receivers, in 1.43 Billion households, and the global radio audience reach is 4.2 Billion. Note that this is now the same as TV [it used to be that radio reached a bigger audience in the Emerging World but TV has caught up now].

Original Author: Tomi Ahonen

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