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Media Zone: We Want Our HDTV Ads!

1 Jan, 2013 By: Timothy R. Hawthorne Response

Timothy HawthorneHigh definition has changed the way viewers watch TV and the way DRTV producers make and format commercials. Credit the affordability of HDTVs and the picture quality and clarity that they provide for pushing the majority of consumers to deep-six their old televisions in favor of these state-of-the-art entertainment boxes. A 2012 Treehouse Media and DG study, Increasing TV Advertising Impact in a High Definition World, found that HDTV household penetration has increased from 28.4 percent in 2008 to a 80.1 percent today.

Also increasing are the number of media outlets that accept and use HD. Currently, 82 percent of major networks and 70 percent of national cable networks consider HD to be the broadcast standard, according to the study. This isn’t a behind-the-scenes movement either — viewers can discern between HD and SD content. In fact, 76 percent of survey respondents said they could spot content that’s being shown on an HD channel and not produced in high definition. Not only is HD picture quality noticeable, but it’s seen as a “superior format” for retaining audience interest, as well.

High definition is about more than feeling like you’re standing in the middle of a European landscape and being able to see the pores on actors’ faces — it also sells products and services. Using a commercial’s holding power or audience retention rate (also known as “tuneaway”) as a measure, Treehouse and DG found that spots that air in HD outperform SD spots by over 18 percent.

“This equates to an estimated commercial value lift of more than $8 billion across the industry,” says Andrew Donato, vice president at New York-based Treehouse. Interestingly, he also says that the 18-55-year-old male demographic tends to be the most discerning when it comes to HD versus SD advertising. “They don’t like anything in SD and they change channels a lot,” he points out.

With more HDTVs working their way into homes and more consumers detecting the difference between SD and HD, one would think that advertisers would be jumping to adapt to the latter. Quite the contrary, according to the report, which found adoption lagging. In 2011, HD ad adoption was just 16 percent — compared to 2 percent four years ago. The higher costs, complications and misconceptions that surround HD all come into play when marketers decide which format to use for their DRTV commercials.

In many instances, HD ads must be delivered on tape due to the fact that not all stations are using the same broadcast or delivery platforms. This adds some complexity and cost on both the production and delivery side. The fact that 20-25 percent of stations don’t currently take certain advertising in HD, and the double formatting required to handle closed captioning, are also making marketers think twice.

George Leon, Hawthorne Direct’s senior vice president of media, says the best way to balance the HD vs. SD equation is by looking at the product and the commercial itself. Highly branded spots produced by corporations, for example, should nearly always be created in HD and then converted down to SD for those networks that don’t accept the former. Beauty and skincare commercials — which require high detail for demonstrations — should also be in HD, Leon points out, while weight-loss, fitness and housewares products would be able to get away with SD in most circumstances.

Price point also matters and needs to cover the additional cost of HD dubbing, equipment and tapes. “If you’re selling a widget for $9.99, the cost of HD may not necessarily work out in your favor,” says Cole Van Heel, new business development director at North Country Media Group in Great Falls, Mont. One way to circumvent this challenge is to test commercials in SD to save money and time. Then, when you’re ready to roll out the campaign you can incorporate HD into the equation.

An avid HD viewer who starts channel surfing when picture quality diminishes, Van Heel expects more marketers to take the high-definition route as the associated costs become more affordable. “There are still many cases where SD makes sense and also a lot of brands and other products for which the HD investment pays off,” says Van Heel. “As dubbing, equipment and other costs come down for HD, it will get to the point where SD is really no longer an option.” ■

About the Author: Timothy R. Hawthorne

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