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Discovery Finds Hi-Def Ads Pay Off

Brand Recall, Intent to Purchase Higher in HD

Commercials in high definition not only look better, they sell better.

That’s the conclusion of research tied to a major upfront deal that put Starcom USA clients on Discovery Communications’ Discovery HD Theater channel.

The study found that the increase in brand recall by HD viewers was triple that of standard-definition viewers. Intent-to-purchase was 55 percent higher when ads were seen in HD as opposed to standard definition. More viewers also found spots "very enjoyable" in HD.

The figures help give Starcom clients, including Allstate, Best Buy and Miller Brewing, a clearer picture of what they’re buying when they order HD commercial time.

The unique deal also uses second-by-second data from TNS Media Intelligence, gathered from Charter Communications cable subscribers in Los Angeles, to determine how many people are watching. Nielsen Media does not measure Discovery Home Theater.

Using the TNS service, Discovery estimated about 600,000 homes watched "Planet Earth" on HD Theater, raising total viewership by 19 percent.

"Discovery has fabulous programming that we want to be a part of, but not until we can provide accountability to our clients," said Tracey Scheppach, senior VP and video innovations director at Starcom. "These two pieces really answer for us how much and how much better."

With the information in hand, Starcom will intensify its interest in buying time on independent HD networks, Ms. Scheppach said. The data also will help Starcom set pricing for ads on the channel, a process that had pretty much been guesswork before.

The recall and intent-to-purchase scores suggest high-definition channels should get premium prices on a price-per-thousand-viewers basis, she said. The premium will be in effect until all channels are in HD and the vast majority of viewers buy HD sets, she added.

A June Consumer Electronics Association study revealed nearly 30 percent of U.S. households have an HD set; of those, almost a third own more than one. The study also indicated only 44 percent of HDTV owners actually receive HD programming. Lack of interest and expense were the main reason consumers cited for not opting to receive high-def programming.

"I don’t know how long the transition is going to last, whether it’s a year, two years or five years," she said. "Eventually everyone will have HD and that transition premium will evaporate."

The research was done by having a group of viewers watch Discovery programming, some with HD sets, some without. Then the same ads were run in the same shows in standard definition on channels including Discovery, TLC and Animal Planet, and in HD on HD Theater. Both groups answered questions about the commercials they saw over the Internet through Epoll.

"The shows were the same, the timing was the same. So the only difference we introduced into the sample was whether they were watching SD or HD," said Beth Rockwood, senior VP of market resources for Discovery.

The results were like finding money, she said, because it showed "the value of an impression was more."

Ms. Rockwood said she thinks HD viewers are more engaged with ads because they’re more involved with their viewing experience.

"They’ve chosen to spend the money to get the HD set, they’ve chosen to be on those channels. They’re into it," she said.

As HD spreads, it’s not clear that the better picture will continue to translate into higher recall scores that would make advertising more valuable.

"As it becomes more normal, it won’t have as big a lift, but I think that’s going to take a while. HD is still pretty special," Ms. Rockwood said.

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