A Technological Launch1 Apr, 2009 By: Thomas Haire Response
Short-form DRTV producers and marketers say technology, from HD to post-production to online video, is creating a new era.
HD Production Becomes the Norm
While these advances are clearly helping speed up the short-form production process, the upcoming digital television transition only promises to add speed to the HDTV revolution, with more channels and better quality likely to follow quickly. But how will this affect short-form DRTV producers?
"Direct response is incredibly opportunistic," says Jeff Young, president and executive producer at Yardley, Pa.-based ShadowBox Pictures. "Our hope is that spot production will increase, because while the networks have all this bandwidth to play with, they don't necessarily have the programming to support it. With more opportunity for exposure, DR shot in HD will be welcome."
Karlin agrees. "Imagine 500 channels — what does one watch?" he asks. "What will eventually happen, because of the abundance of channels, is that there will be more audience segmenting. Slicing and dicing TV viewership means advertisers will be able to tailor messages and offers specific to the target audience."
However, Michael Pierce, founder of Mutiny Pictures in Venice, Calif., is not a believer in more channels being a better thing. "The networks don't have the capital to acquire content to fill all those niche markets," he says. "Also, the networks can't sell existing inventory, and that says to me that they don't have enough viewers to justify a purchase."
By and large, however, short-form producers seem to agree that the expansion expected in the new digital TV universe (and its hand-in-hand expansion of HD channels) will have little to no effect on how shows are produced. That's because the vast majority of producers are already using HD to film nearly all of their spots.
While Yallen says, "Not shooting in HD today is short-sighted," Garnett calls HD "the new mandatory," adding, "The best non-film cameras are HD. The best edit systems are HD. If you want to do good work, you need to work in HD."
Seavey says her company has been shooting exclusively in HD for the past two years, while Kutchinsky says, "All of our work is currently produced with HD equipment. For distribution to the broadcast outlets or stations that are not HD-ready, we 'down-convert' completed spots for the non-HD format."
This is not rare. Fay contends only about 15 percent of stations are currently running in HD. Because of this, he finds himself still shooting nearly half of his work in standard definition. However, the number of TV stations broadcasting in HD actually points to the biggest issue producers face with the technology. "Shooting HD is really not the issue — it's finishing in HD," Karlin says. "Editing and completion in HD is expensive."
With TV stations not fully up to speed, distribution can be tricky. "Unfortunately, many local or cable stations are not equipped to handle HD," Karlin continues. "Distribution to these stations is a real issue because short-form DRTV generally uses customized phone numbers and/or URLs, then HD productions get down-converted to standard definition. Right now, finishing in HD is best for non-customized productions or commercials with vanity numbers or URLs."
Garnett adds, "There's a difference between shooting and editing in HD and delivering fully HD spots — that is, HD dubs shipped to stations. The truth is that 90 percent of viewers are not able to watch in HD. So if you produce entirely in HD, then your 4:3 dubs have to be letterboxed, and that makes things too small. Alternatively, you can shoot for cropping the sides on 4:3. But, that takes exceptional discipline with editors."
While most producers concur that HD production will completely replace standard-definition (SD) production within two years, questions still abound as to when TV stations will fully upgrade their technology to accept finished HD spots. Pinand-Dumpert is in the optimist camp. "Now that most of the dubbing houses and stations are converting to HD format, many more DRTV productions are using this upscale approach," she says.
Seavey says her company made the move to HD early and agrees with Pinand-Dumpert that, "key vendors have made substantial financial investments in HD technology," as well.
However, both Garnett and Yallen say the timeline is much more extended when talking about all TV networks and stations accepting spots in HD. "Within the next two years, no major marketer will consider shooting SD. In the next five years, most stations will not even accept the SD format," Yallen says.
Garnett agrees. "It will be four to five years before spots will be delivered to stations in primarily HD formats," he says.
Still, marketers are excited by and curious about HD. In the end, it still comes down to results and ROI for DR advocates. "We have been using HD for a while now and believe it is becoming commonplace amongst our partners and vendors," says Ronald Pruett, chief marketing officer at Port St. Lucie, Fla.-based medical services marketer Liberty Medical and a member of the Response Editorial Advisory Board. "It's always given as an option leading me to believe we are not alone. The questions really are, 'Do consumers notice the difference? Is it moving the response needle?'"
Online Video Takes the Lead
The other big topic in short-form production is the rapid growth of online video. As a matter of fact, Pierce is almost dismissive of any talk about HD, rather focusing on online video as the "single most important part of a marketing campaign" and saying that "new media marketing fits the DR model better than TV."
"Today, we can get a client's spot in front of 2 million online viewers within a desired demographic a couple of days after it debuts," he says. "We can follow consumer-browsing habits and purchase habits and do it for a fraction of the cost of a TV media buy. I just don't see what's more compelling at this moment."
Yallen agrees with Pierce about the online video's trackability. "With online campaigns, you can track every aspect of a visitor — where they came from, when they visited, how long it took to place an order, what Web page did they click away or 'bounce' from."
Producers and marketers agree that online video is now a critical part of any DRTV short-form campaign. "Short-form campaigns drive viewers to either call or visit the Web site, so the opportunity to utilize online video to support or augment the message is essential," Young says.
Pruett adds, "It's an imperative. The question now becomes which channel gets launched first? Consumers are quickly leveraging the Web in many of their research and decisions especially around products. Spends can be maximized when these channels are choreographed."
However, while some marketers are comfortable with simply adding a spot to their own Web sites or to online video stalwarts like YouTube, many producers say online video best serves production teams by pushing them get more creative, shooting additional footage to be used online to augment the original TV spot.
Garnett says, "What's critical for online success is to know exactly why you're putting the video online and what communication role it plays for the client."
Ken Murray, chief marketing officer of financial services marketer JG Wentworth in Bryn Mawr, Pa., is very clear in his expectations. "It is imperative that every DR advertiser approach commercial production with multiple response devices in mind," says the member of the Response Editorial Advisory Board. "Online video is incredibly important to not only reinforce the brand and product message but to provide additional rich experiences for consumers to extend those attributes."
This thought process, according to Kutchinsky, makes DRTV what he calls a "micromedia" opportunity. "The Web, E-mail and other new technologies, such as mobile, are capable of soliciting a response and making the sale," he says.
However, Pruett says he still runs into confusion when he brings up online video to different production houses. "Interestingly, there is still some disconnect around spot producers and online strategy and tactics," he contends. "Many are still grasping for straws when discussions around the Web channel emerge."
Better producers take advantage of the different opportunities presented by online video — from no strictures on spot length to the opportunity to use additional video or testimonials that once might have been left on the cutting room floor.
Kutchinsky and Young both say that taking online video into account affects the scripting process at the start of production. Young says, "We still design the standard 120-, 60- and 30-second spots, but we also don't have those specific time constraints online. For example, a 3-D product demonstration in the spot can be expanded to an online tutorial. Or testimonials can be expanded beyond the limits of a broadcast spot for online use."
Others are more concerned with the specifics surrounding any piece of video used online. Seavey says, "Our concern would be more framing and creating something more for a Web environment and more interactive."
Yallen adds, "A lot of advertisers are misled by the lack of size limitation in the online world and get carried away with the creative latitude on viral campaigns. Remember: length needs to be tailored to the Internet viewer's attention span."
But even marketers wonder what that attention span is. Pruett asks, "Can an advertiser use a 10-second TV spot to drive an audience to a 10-minute Web video? Is the purpose to educate, drive a transaction, or something else entirely?"
While Murray doesn't answer the attention-span question, he does have a clear idea of what he wants online video to achieve. "Not many consumers visit an advertiser's Web site to re-watch a commercial they saw on TV. They want to learn more about the product or service advertised. View fixed TV spots as a response and branding activity that will lead interested prospects to your Web site. Once there, familiarity with TV personas and characters can help credibility. More importantly, this is a perfect opportunity to galvanize consumer relationships by providing visual, interactive tools, leading to higher conversion rates."