It's Time for HD Commercials

I was pleased to read the other day that in this year's Super Bowl broadcast, slightly more than half of the spots were in high definition. I might not be all that pleased except that a friend of mine is cranky. In fact, maybe I'm not all that pleased after all.

I'm generally not a bucket's-half-empty kind of guy, but at $2.4-million per 30-second spot, the advertisers in the Super Bowl are the richest of the rich, and still, nearly half of the commercials are standard definition.

Which gets us back to my cranky friend. Ask any real engineer who knows me and they'll tell you I'm not way technical. (They may say worse things about me as well, but they'll tell you I'm not way technical.)

However, I can read an instruction manual, and I've plugged a lot of things together with very few sparks and almost no smoke. I get called on a lot to help my friends put in their home entertainment centers. This is where my cranky friend comes into the story.

He asked me to help him install his new HD home entertainment center. If I do say so myself, I did a heck of a job; only made one real mistake, and there was no sparking or smoking.

Turns out the cable company hadn't actually brought HD into the house, but once my cranky friend got done nattering at them, things were fine. Fine that is, except that according to my cranky friend, the hi-def started going in and out. I sprang to my car to see what was the matter.


We were watching "Monday Night Football" in HD, and when they went to break, my friend shouted "there it is, it's not working." You've probably figured out already that what he saw was the picture go from 16:9 to 4:3, and it didn't look as crisp as ABC's football telecast. I tried my best to explain what was going on--that the commercials themselves weren't in HD. But he wasn't satisfied. Like I said, he's cranky.

I had a businessman tell me a long time ago that people like my cranky friend are actually an asset, because they give you instant feedback. Someone who complains about the service in a restaurant may be a pain in the tail, but they also may be giving you an early warning that something's wrong.

While you and I, television experts, can look at what my friend saw and know that the HD system itself isn't failing, that it's just a commercial pod that's in SD instead of HD, the regular viewer doesn't know that.

But unless they're as cranky as my friend, they probably won't tell you. They may just be real disappointed in the hi-def experience. After all that's been invested in the digital broadcasting infrastructure, it'll be too bad if people put off buying high-definition televisions because when they were watching it at their friend's house, it didn't work right.

What to do about it? Well, you can start at home.In those commercial pods, not only were most of the national commercials and all of the local commercials in SD, but the station promos were in SD as well. Come to think of it, I think the network promos were in SD too.

Your salespeople are going to have a tough time convincing the advertisers they ought to be doing their spots in HD or doing a separate HD version if the station itself seems to be content with SD for its own advertising.

So in fact, one of the things a station might want to do is bring the infrastructure up to the point where local HD spots (and promos) can be aired. And you might also want to get the word out to the local advertising community about how they should deliver HD spots. With apologies to my friends who make high-end hi-def tape cassettes, local ad agencies are not going to want to buy those for each spot. Hint: data file on DVD.

And then there's nothing like incentivizing the sales folks to actually sell HD spots. Nothing seems to work quite as well as a bonus.

When people see their first HD, we all want them to be impressed. It's in the best interest of the stations and cable channels, and the people who work there, to make these first HD experiences the best they can be. If you won't do it for yourself, do it for me. I'm ready for my cranky friend to be cranky about something else for a change.