How will HD revolutionise advertising?

High-definition technology is already taking over TV programming: it is estimated that there will be 40 million HD sets in the UK by 2012, and up to 120 HD channels in Europe within five years. But will the format ever dominate the world of advertising?

One of the many benefits that the digital revolution is meant to bring to media is high definition (HD). On TV, in cinemas or out of home, high-definition images have the potential to transform the way ads are made, planned and bought.

But potential is a world away from reality. There are a few simple reasons - such as cost - why there hasn't so far been a boom in the production of HD ads, and some doubt whether high-definition content will ever dominate the world of advertising in the way that it is expected to gradually take over the world of programming.

For now, TV is at the forefront of the HD revolution. Of the commercial broadcasters, BSkyB is leading the way in high-definition TV, while the BBC is also an important pioneer. HDTV is currently available on digital satellite and cable services to viewers with HD-enabled equipment and a subscription to an HD service.

Meanwhile, Ofcom is preparing for digital terrestrial TV (Freeview) to carry HD channels, with the first channel expected to launch in 2009. As yet, ads on HDTV channels and in the cinema do not run in HD.

Of the broadcasters, Sky is leading the way with HD and has 465,000 subscribers who can access 7,000 hours of HDTV a month across 18 HD channels. These include high-definition versions of the Sky Sports channels, Sky One, Sky Arts and others such as Discovery, National Geographic and the History Channel.

All football produced by Sky is shot and aired in HD, as is county and international cricket. In addition, all Sky Arts and 90% of Sky One commissions are made in HD.

Although non-commercial, the BBC is also broadcasting a high-definition service. BBC HD is a separate channel with its own listing on electronic programming guides. It's currently broadcasting four hours a day on weekdays and six hours a day at weekends, although that is expected to rise to more like nine hours a day over the next couple of years.

Over the summer, BBC HD will air the Olympics and Paralympics, Wimbledon, Euro 2008, the Chelsea Flower Show and coverage of the Glastonbury festival.

The BBC estimates that there are currently 10 million HD-ready sets in use in the UK; the forecast is that there will be 40 million HD sets nationwide by 2012, and up to 120 HD channels in Europe within five years. The corporation estimates that around 600,000 viewers are actively subscribing to HD services: 465,000 via Sky and 150,000 via Virgin.

A BBC spokesman believes there is customer confusion about HDTV. He points out that some people have HD-enabled TVs, but don't realise that they need to subscribe to an HD service to actually get HDTV on their set; others have the set and subscription, but don't change channel to watch the HD service.

He says: "All our research shows that when people get HD, they watch it a lot and don't go back to single definition." He also predicts that the cost of HDTV will fall over time, both for the consumer and for producers. For instance, Dr Who isn't currently shot in HD because the cost of computer-generated imges would be too high.

Ofcom's moves to make HDTV available on Freeview as early as next year have been hailed as great news for Freeview. New technology and a reorganisation of the way channels are allocated on the digital terrestrial television platform will free up space for four Freeview HDTV services. The first three HD channels will be available as digital switchover takes place in the Granada TV region of North West England from 2009.

All four HD channels should be available across the country by the time digital switchover is due to be completed in 2012. One will be reserved for the BBC, with the remaining three open to a competitive bidding process - overseen by Ofcom - among the public service broadcasters, including ITV, Channel 4, Five and Welsh language channel S4C.

Ilse Howling, general manager of Freeview, says: "The announcement from Ofcom and the BBC Trust that HD will be on Freeview, possibly as early as next year, is great news for Freeview, and the huge number of people who have told us they expect HD on Freeview in the future and that it will be available for free.

She adds: "We look forward to working with the industry to bring this exciting and new TV viewing experience to the 15 million homes using the Freeview service."

Meanwhile, ITV is launching an HD service that, unlike the BBC's offering, will not be carried on a separate channel, but will be accessed via the red button. Viewers will be prompted to press the button whenever HD programming is available.

ITV is launching its HD service with live coverage of the Euro 2008 football championships in Austria and Switzerland, initially available to viewers watching on Freesat. In the future, even more of the ITV schedule will appear in HD, including drama, films and some acquisitions.

So far, just two advertisers have made HDTV ads. All Sony's ads for the past three years - including the award-winning balls, paint and Play-Doh sequences - have contained HD elements and, last summer, Ford ran an HD campaign for its Mondeo Balloon commercials.

Restraining factors
The development of HD is limited by technology and cost. A format war between Toshiba and Sony over the next generation of DVDs has only recently been resolved in favour of Sony's Blu-Ray standard, meaning that much old HD DVD technology will become obsolete.

What's more, the cost of both producing and receiving HDTV is still high, particularly when the benefits of HD are less than clear.

James Appleby, broadcast account director at Mediaedge:cia, says: "HD is still very expensive. If you buy a Sky HD box then you have to pay £10 a month for the HD channels, which are also available in standard definition. So HD advertising isn't immediately obvious. It's difficult to sell something that consumers don't have access to."

Appleby points out that TV, like radio but unlike cinema, is not sold on the basis of the quality of the experience, but rather on getting a message out to huge numbers of viewers.

Simon Terrington, founding director of consultancy Human Capital, believes that HDTV will take hold, driven by computer games consoles, the end of the DVD format wars and bigger TVs.

However, he says: "There's not enough bandwidth for all channels to be in HD."
By bandwidth he means Freeview, Sky and broadband internet, which "will struggle as normal video takes off".

Terrington reckons the five main channels plus Sky Sports will broadcast in HD, and says certain genres lend themselves to HD, such as sport, natural history and drama.

For example, Cranford was shot in HD, but shows such as Holby City don't benefit significantly from being shot in the format.

Terrington says: "When a significant proportion of programmes on ITV have gone HD, the big brand advertisers on the national networks will need to go HD.

"Multichannel HD ads will come a lot later, if ever. I don't believe they have the budgets and it won't have much effect on the impact of the ad. Plus, they won't have the comparison factor of being surrounded by HD programmes."

Emily Bliss, managing director of ad production company Home Corp, confirms the view that HD isn't yet a major format for ads. Home Corp represents a number of directors who work across feature film, documentaries and commercials.

She canvassed opinion on HD from a drama director and a lighting/cameraman for commercials. Ninety per cent of the drama producer's work in the past three years has been in HD, while the cameraman has made just 5% of his ads in HD over the same period.

Bliss also points out that technology is moving so fast with HD that there is a danger that people's training becomes redundant, and post-production can be difficult. "All post-production is geared towards film," she says.

Mark Murray-Jones, client director at MindShare, who planned an HD campaign for Ford last year (see box below), says that HD advertising will take off for certain categories of products.

Murray-Jones  says: "HD will work for categories where the design of the product is important. You can tell the difference with HD content in certain things such as sport, but for other programming it's not so apparent.

"As audiences fragment and advertisers move to producing compelling, quality content rather than quantity, that plays into the hands of HD."

Case study Ford blazes a trail for HD campaigns
Last year, Ford became the first UK advertiser to run an entire multimedia campaign for the Mondeo in high definition. The TV ad, which featured old cars attached to multicoloured balloons floating up into the sky, launched in the Champions League final during May.

However, because even ads on HD channels do not run in HD, the Mondeo spot had to be incorporated within the HD reel of programming - a feat MindShare managed to arrange with Sky.

Ads also ran in Playhouse cinemas on HD screens and on HD demonstration screens in Currys and Comet stores around the country, from May to September last year.

In addition, MindShare included HD "pods" in the campaign - large screens at Victoria Station that are owned by Sky and have been used to demonstrate HDTV. The Ford Mondeo ad ran on the screens, in and around football content for three weeks.

Mark Murray-Jones, client director at MindShare, who planned the campaign for Ford, says: "We were trying to get HD on as many different platforms as possible. Our message was the exterior beauty of the car and its kinetic design - the car looks as though it is moving when it's still, and it is muscular and sporty."

Murray-Jones sees great potential for HD advertising for certain categories of advertiser, particularly car brands.

"HD is going to be a big thing for car advertising," he says. "It is a very exciting format for car advertisers, and the marketing director of Ford was very enthusiastic."

He adds that the Ford Mondeo campaign was a "tremendous success", with high footfall in the stores and at Victoria Station. Ford achieved the sales figures it wanted for the car and attracted new customers, with reports that Audis and BMWs were being part-exchanged for new Ford Mondeos.

According to Murray-Jones, the media costs were not prohibitive, and, as Ford already shoots some of its ads in HD, production costs were in line with expectations.

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