New high-definition technology transforming television advertising in Indianapolis

November 14, 2009

A new technology that made its way from the West Coast to Indianapolis is putting TV ads with high-definition quality within reach of more local advertisers.

Red Digital Cinema Technology gives video producers the ability to shoot in high-definition quality without the expense of film. The technology, which was developed by Los Angeles-based Red Digital Cinema Camera Co., landed in this market less than a year ago and has been gaining a following ever since.

“With more TV shows being shown in high-definition, advertisers are increasingly clamoring to have their spots shown in the same high quality,” said Bob Gustafson, Ball State University advertising professor. “It’s jarring to the viewer when you switch from an HDTV program to a standard or low-definition commercial spot.”


Red Digital technology, which was launched in the United States in early 2008, recently has been used for big-screen productions such as “District 9” and “The Informant” and the NBC-TV show “ER.”

Locally, commercials for Indiana University’s football team, IUPUI and Indiana Members Credit Union have been produced using the technology.

While video quality has improved in the last decade as it has moved from an analog to digital format, industry experts said it is still no match for the quality of film, which has far greater clarity and more defined colors. Red Digital offers similar resolution—about four times greater than digital video—and color qualities, but without the high cost of working with film, according to Mike Yonts, president of Indianapolis-based Mike Yonts Films.

“The images this technology allows you to capture are much better than video, and that’s really important to a number of my clients,” Yonts said. “There are just so many flat-screen TVs out there right now and with HDTV becoming so common, that really is driving the demand.”

An increasing number of advertisers—from auto dealers to clothing retailers and restaurants—are demanding higher-resolution TV ads, Gustafson said.

“If your product is image- or design-sensitive, has to do with sensory perception, or has anything to do with status, you want the sharpest, cleanest reproduction possible,” Gustafson said. “It’s getting to the point that a non-HD spot looks like an impressionistic painting.”

The trend toward high-definition-quality TV spots is fast-moving, Gustafson said.

Broadcasting and Cable Magazine reported that in 2007 only 20 percent of TV ads were HD-quality. This year, the trade publication reported the number to be about 50 percent, with 75 percent of ads airing during national sporting events shot in high-definition.

Local advertisers—many unable or unwilling to pay the 25 percent to 50 percent additional expense it takes to shoot a commercial in high-definition compared to standard-definition—have been slower to jump on the HD bandwagon.

“We’re still only seeing 10 percent of the local advertisements run through our station in high-definition,” said Paul Montgomery, WRTV-TV Channel 6 programming director. “The interest from advertisers is definitely there, but only recently have we seen the number of local HD commercials start to increase.”

John Pinella, owner of John Pinella Productions, thinks the capabilities of Red Digital will jump-start the local production of high-quality TV spots.

“The [Red Digital] technology is fairly versatile,” Pinella said. “You have to be careful with lighting and depth of field, but you can use it for a number of applications.”

Since he adopted the technology in August, Pinella said, he has used it for shoots ranging from music videos and reality shows to corporate work and commercials. He said he and Yonts are the only two in central Indiana that he knows of using the technology.

The investment for producers is significant, Yonts said, but not prohibitive. Yonts invested about $50,000 in the Red Digital technology, which he said is about half as much as a similar set-up for cinema-quality film would require. If the economy picks up, Yonts thinks he could recoup that investment within a year or two.

Yonts, who began using the technology in December, added that since the new technology is all digital, he has no need to send film to an out-of-state lab to be processed. The nearest film lab, he added, is in Chicago.

Images with the new technology are saved on a hard drive, and can be manipulated and easily transferred to a client, Yonts said.

Dave Rust, Indiana University’s director of broadcast and electronic media, was so taken by the technology, he asked that it be used for the school’s new Athletic Department ads. The spots featuring Athletic Director Fred Glass at IU’s Memorial Stadium have been airing since August.

“Not only was Red a tremendous improvement in picture quality over most video cameras, but we could rough-cut the ad on site and basically see what the finished product would look like,” Rust said. “It saved us days in film processing and thousands of dollars over what it would cost to do this on film.”

The production cost for the IU football spots was $27,000, and Rust said shooting it on film would have cost at least another $15,000.•



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