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Few Venture into HD Ad Country

The uncertainty of exactly how many consumers who have "HD-ready" sets and/or tuners are actually watching HD television programming, and on what channels, has led most heavy buyers of traditional TV time to balk for now at producing their spots in 1080i or 720p. As a result, the vast majority of commercials inserted into HD fare primary remains of the SD variety (with both aspect ratios used).

The lack of HD viewer stats has long been a problem, especially when the major MSOs usually refuse to release any numbers on their respective HD subscribers, citing "competitive reasons" more than anything else. Yet if the HD sub sign-ups were impressive, to date, industry observers say the cable companies (and DBSers) would be using those numbers as a very loud marketing tool. The heart of the problem with numbers (or the lack, thereof) is that no one really has a firm handle nationally about how many MSOs and satellite firms are passing on network broadcast HD primetime to their subs in HD. (This is crucial, because CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox continue to reap the largest ratings in television.)

Meanwhile, some channels such as ESPN HD don't accept HD spots since it's still primarily tape-based (most HD spots need a computer server), although ESPN's restriction likely will end by the end of 2005.

Sub-Zero Freezer of Madison, Wis., is among the few advertisers right now producing commercials in HD. The firm told The Wall Street Journal this week that its reasoning for paying somewhat higher rates for HD ads (up to 20 percent higher, according to the WSJ) is that high-end consumers with HD sets would naturally be attracted to its other high-end products, such as refrigerators. Sub-Zero's spots are produced by the Richards Group of Dallas and air mainly on HDNet.