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If you’ve already read the caption to the publicity photo for the episode “The Debate” from NBC’s The West Wing you know where this editorial is going. If you haven’t, I’ll give you a few seconds and then we’ll continue.

Everybody set? OK.

I’m just baffled. You would think that in a show like The West Wing, which has an upscale demographic that might be watching in HD, that the exclusive advertiser would want their spots in HD.

It’s not that hard: shoot and protect HD or film (if film, telecine to HD) post, then center-crop for the SD crowd. But no. It’s just lame.

Who is making these decisions? Ad agency execs are my guess. But why? Traditionally, one way ad agencies would make their money was by getting a percentage of the production cost (called “cost plus”). If a filmed commercial costs more than an HD commercial and you were the ad agency, which would you chose?

But it doesn’t. Without getting into what amounts to a religious argument comparing apples to oranges, a commercial’s one or two day shoot in HD would cost about 10-15% more than film.

Using this model, the ad agency would get more money shooting in HD.

Today, a lot of spots are shot in HD. So where’s my HD commercial? Now there’s a new advertising model—fixed budget for commercial production. Spend it all and the agency doesn’t make any money. Spend some and the agency gets to keep what’s left. With this model, film production might be the way for agencies to keep some green. But film can still be telecined to HD. So where’s my HD commercial?

Here’s the lame part: while a good number of commercials today are shot in HD, they get downconverted during post.

Makes you just want to scream doesn’t it?

But this isn’t just an advertising agency issue, although I can’t imagine how an advertiser looking for upscale demographics could be so stupid with HD viewers. And don’t forget that the networks accept the SD ads for HD don’t they? When I was working in TV, someone once told me that our station would accept ads on masking tape, as long as the check didn’t bounce. Standard definition commercials upconverted to HD are like masking tape. Especially the ones that are letterboxed so they look like a postage stamp.

But let’s go down the food chain. The majority of local stations can’t handle HD spots either, especially in their primetime avails.

But I don’t really blame local stations as much as I do the networks for letting this practice continue. But I don’t even blame the networks as much as the ad agencies. When it comes to HD commercials, the agencies are just lame and pathetic.

Michael Silbergleid is the editor and associate publisher of Television Broadcast. He can be reached at