DVD sales in Europe soared by 53% in 2004, with 464 million units sold.

But there are signs that the extraordinary rate of growth is starting to slow, with sales up “only” 40% in the fourth quarter of 2004, the busiest selling season.

As the market for DVD broadens, so the appetite for product becomes more varied.

“Increasingly we will see music, historical and educational DVDs playing a greater role in the format’s success in Western Europe, where maturing markets such as the UK, France and Germany are seeking to explore different genres,” said Philippe Cardon, exec vp and general manager of Warner Home Video Europe.

“Purchasing of DVDs is also spreading across a much wider range of demographic profiles as the format matures, with females and older ages contributing more to DVD sales than in the past.”

That’s reflects in the growth of TV programming on DVD, with a sales growth of 34% in the major territories, against a film growth of 18%.

Overall growth rates within the 15 territories tallied by the DVD Home Entertainment Group Europe vary considerably.

The advanced U.K. market is expanding at a relatively slower pace, with a 34% increase in the last quarter and overall rise of 42% in 2004.

Italy, by contrast, is coming up fast, with a massive 121% increase in the last quarter, and 166% for the year as a whole.

French DVD sales were up 61% in the last quarter and the year.

Germany grew 63% in 2004, but only 41% in the last quarter.

Spanish sales showed the sharpest slowdown, with only 29% growth in the final quarter versus 49% in the year overall.

Around 54% of all Western European homes now have DVD players.

The most mature territories, as indicated by the slowdown in growth rates, are the UK with 67% penetration, and Spain with 60%.

Italy has the greatest room for further growth, with just 34% of homes owning DVD players. Germany is also lagging slightly behind the other major markets, with 51% penetration.