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HD ad progress slows to crawl

Overall, the percentage of ads distributed to U.S. TV media in HD is stuck below 20 percent, and four hurdles, including the higher price of HD commercial distribution, are impeding its growth.

Those are some of the most important conclusions of the latest report from Extreme Reach, a commercial distribution firm that tracks the development of HD ads in its quarterly “HD Trends Report.” The report puts HD ad adoption into perspective by looking at it from the point of view of network affiliates, local cable and broadcast media and advertisers. It also reports the percentage of HD commercials out of all TV ads delivered to broadcast outlets.

For the first quarter of 2011, the research found that 89 percent of network affiliates in the top 20 DMAs air HD ads. That high percentage drops to 42 percent for local cable and broadcast media. HD adoption by advertisers remained at 39 percent for the quarter — the same as Q4 2010. Of all the TV ads delivered for the quarter, 17 percent were in HD, compared to 13 percent the preceding quarter.

“One of the questions we asked was, ‘In your opinion, why aren’t all ads in HD now?’” said Bob Haskitt, Extreme Reach CMO. “The most common hurdle was the cost of delivering HD commercials, and we are in the HD distribution business.”

HD delivery costs are no small impediment, he said.

“We heard things like, ‘If tape and electronic distribution cost less, we would be able to do HD more often.’ And in some instances, they would be able to convince their client to do HD for the first time.” Cost is also an important component of the other three obstacles the research identified, he added.

Another obstacle is what Extreme Reach dubs “the production dilemma,” an HD formatting issue that arises from the desire of producers to take advantage of every bit of the wide HD screen and the reality that agency traffic managers must deliver masters in different formats to meet the individual needs of stations selected for an ad buy.

Essentially, producers have to choose between making two versions of their commercial: one for 4:3 SD, such as a center-cut safe version of their HD ad, and one for widescreen HD screens. Otherwise, they have to see their HD image cut to accommodate SD needs.

“Traffic folks chimed in saying, ‘Man, if we could only be on the same page,’” Haskitt said. According to the research, 35 percent of respondents said formatting presented a hurdle.

The other two hurdles identified in the report include inconsistent adoption of HD by TV media and the complication of managing the distribution split of HD and SD ad content.

The report makes a number of suggestions on overcoming the hurdles, ranging from keeping center-cut formatting in mind during production to asking SD-only outlets to support HD advertising.