Television commercials that are placed and delivered at the nation level can be produced, delivered, and broadcast in high definition, because they come down the national feed. For example, when a national Budweiser spot comes on TV, it may very well be a high definition spot, because it was inserted at the national level and comes down the national feed. Any commercial inserted at any level other than the national level (in our case, locally), must be delivered and broadcast in standard definition. Production companies have no choice in this; it is required by the local stations.
So on with the journey of our spot…
1) Client directs their advertising agency to produce a TV commercial, or “spot”.
2) Ad agency creates concept for the spot, producing a storyboard, script, and overall strategic and creative direction.
3) Ad agency hires a production company, like Earworks Media, to help them produce the spot.
4) The production company shoots video using the highest quality professional digital video equipment the budget will allow, shooting in either SD or HD. The raw digital video footage is edited on a digital non-linear editing system such as the industry standard AVID or Final Cut Pro systems, producing a high quality digital master file of the spot in standard definition (as required by the broadcast stations).
5) The production company prepares the master TV commercial for delivery to television stations and cable companies. The production company has two delivery options:
a). Tape. Yields a high quality “dub” of the TV commercial, and will not have to go thru so many layers of compression, however most television stations prefer electronic delivery.
b) Digital delivery. Rapidly becoming the only way television and cable companies will accept a TV spot. In theory, a great delivery vehicle; a high quality, inexpensive and efficient way to deliver the TV spot. In current practice, a terrible way to deliver a TV spot. Why?
A high quality digital file of a TV commercial is very large and therefore time consuming and expensive to send over the Internet and especially expensive to store on television stations’ computer servers. Many large files require many large server computers to store the files; conversely the smaller the file, the cheaper and easier it is to digitally deliver and store it. To cut costs the broadcast stations had to find a way to reduce the size, or “compress”, the digital files to make them cheaper to store. Compression is a process where bits of information are selectively removed by special software or dedicated hardware so that the compressed file is much smaller than the original high quality file, but removing this information results in quality degradation; the more a video file is compressed, the worse it looks and sounds. The DVDs you watch at home can store large amounts of information but the movie still has to fit onto the DVD media, so it is compressed, but not too much, so they still look and sound good.
Locally inserted television commercials aren’t so lucky. Unfortunately the heavy amount of compression broadcasters require for the delivery of TV commercials results in significantly reduced quality. For example, a full quality digital video file of a :30 second TV spot is approximately 1 gigabyte in size (or 1000 megabytes). Television stations and cable companies currently require a digital video file to be compressed to approximately 80 megabytes, a very significant reduction in file size that significantly reduces the quality of the video and audio.
Currently there are only two options available to production companies for digital TV commercial delivery; DGFastChannel for network affiliate broadcast stations, and each cable network’s proprietary system, which in Hampton Roads is Cox’s Spot Express.
There are other options than DGFastChannel, but DGFastChannel is the largest provider. Other delivery providers include USA Studios, Edgecast, and Spot Box Extreme but these providers require similar compression requirements.
DGFastChannel and Spot Express both require very specific compression specifications in order to accept a TV commercial from a production company. In addition, the production company must be officially certified by DGFastChannel to participate in their delivery system, and Cox also requires pre-testing before they will accept a commercial. (Earworks Media is certified for both DGFastChannel and Cox Spot Express). So all production companies have no choice but to heavily compress the TV commercial per the specifications of DGFastChannel and/or Cox Spot Express, greatly reducing the quality.
In Part Three, we’ll continue the journey of your TV spot.