Live sports, broadcast in HD, seen on a properly configured HD TV, is a visual treat. Watching commercials dropped into that broadcast: much less so. Last night watching the Yankees game I saw, in one commercial pod, the following:
–a spot letterboxed vertically and horizontally
–a spot stretched to fit 16:9
–a spot in 4:3 with vertical letterboxing
While TV manufacturers are busy hawking the next technology–3D–advertisers and their agencies and production partners are still coping with HD and widescreen.
Like Afghanistan, there are no good options, only bad and more bad. Consider: if you finish your spot in cinema (widescreen) 16:9, viewers with regular (4:3) TVs will see it horizontally letterboxed. If you finish it 4:3, viewers with widescreen TVs will either see it vertically letterboxed or stretched like Super Putty to fit the screen.
Wait, you say. Widescreen is here to stay, and so is HD. Maybe, but remember: that big beautiful 1080p screen needs to be properly configured and provided with HD signal. The first is beyond most people’s capability and the second is rarer than you think. Why do you suppose all those TVs in bars, gyms, banks and lobbies have their Fox talking heads all looking unnaturally wide (and Rush even more so)? Because no one set the controls. And all those Law & Order episodes cha-chunging away till for the rest of time? Low-def, baby.
The interesting thing (to me at least) is: no one outside the business even notices. First, because it’s a commercial break and who cares, and second, because in a world of Flips, grainy videos and 2-inch screens, production issues don’t matter much.
But take it from me: if you’re selling a weight-loss product, you do not want your client seeing her commercial with everyone in it looking like a double-wide trailer because it’s been stretched to fit the screen.