CAMPAIGN REPORT: PRODUCTION/POST-PRODUCTION - Digital diktats Digital TV could mean fewer top-end and more low-budget ads. Jim Davies looks at the impact of this technological revolution on the production and post-production sectors.

By JIM DAVIES,, Friday, 25 June 1999 12:00AM

For the moment, digital television is little more than a middle-class smokescreen. It simply means that Sebastian from Surbiton can watch as much Sky Sports as he likes without so much as a tut-tut from the neighbours. No satellite dish, no comment.

For the moment, digital television is little more than a

middle-class smokescreen. It simply means that Sebastian from Surbiton

can watch as much Sky Sports as he likes without so much as a tut-tut

from the neighbours. No satellite dish, no comment.

OK, there are other benefits. Crystal-clear pictures, a greater choice

of channels, a 24-hour BBC news service. But the major providers,

ONdigital and Sky Digital, currently offer little more than the average

cable or satellite company. So what’s all the fuss about? It’s telling

that a recent Henley Centre survey revealed that 50 per cent of the

public had no interest in digital TV whatsoever.

Ah, but they will. Experts and players can’t quite agree on a date but,

certainly within the next decade and probably a lot sooner, we will all

be watching digital TV in this country whether we like it or not. By

then, the existing analogue spectrum, which provides terrestrial and

satellite television, will have been auctioned off to telecoms

businesses. It’s ironic that a broadcast medium that promises its

audience infinite choice has left us with Hobson’s - digital or


So much for the viewing public. But how will the advent of a fully

fledged digital television landscape impact on the ad industry, in

particular the production and post-production fraternity?

’Digital technology had a huge impact on the production business some

years ago (in the mid 80s),’ Bertie Miller, the managing director of the

production company, Spectre, says. ’We’ve always been at the forefront

of technology.

Production and post-production houses are geared up for digital TV


So I don’t think it will particularly affect the way that we work on a

day-to-day basis - at least for a little while.’

Penny Verbe, the facilities director of the Soho-based post-production

outfit, Smoke and Mirrors, which uses Inferno digital effects

extensively, concurs: ’We’re fortunate in that Inferno is

open-resolution software, so we can work in whatever resolution is

demanded for the job. It’s not a problem. That’s one of the real upsides

of the system.’

But it’s not really the existing technology base that’s the issue


It’s how the much-heralded digital television revolution will affect

advertising strategy as a whole and how that, in turn, will knock on to

the production and post-production businesses.

We’re promised a brave new televisual world of 200-plus channels, where

punters can ’interact’ with their televisions by ordering products

directly online or tapping into a relevant website to access further

information on that car/bed/insurance policy they’re after. It will be

less nerdy and easier to use than home computer-based internet systems.

And it’s estimated that by 2002, non-PC devices (read televisions) will

account for more than 50 per cent of internet access.

This new, highly segmented televisual landscape will allow advertisers

to target audiences carefully, rather than producing catch-all

commercials for generalist consumption.

’It’s the difference between a blunderbuss and an accurate rifle,’

Hector McLeod, the managing director of the post-production house,

Glassworks, says. ’Commercials will be made for a much more specific

demographic. They’ll know that Jim Brown (40) of Arcadia Avenue drives a

Ford Focus and exactly what they want to say to him. Ads will tend to be

much more informative and receptive to the people they are aimed


It also, McLeod believes, will make the ’use of beautiful imagery less

relevant, so the high end (of the market) will suffer’. No more

week-long location shoots in Hawaii. McLeod concedes that Glassworks -

which has just completed work on campaigns for Camelot and Nissan, as

well as pop promos for Elton John and Bjork - tends to operate in the

apparently endangered high end.

So what precautions will Glassworks be making? ’We’re small and not

intending to get any bigger - we need to protect ourselves,’ McLeod


’Certain advertisers will still demand beautiful imagery; we’ll have to

make sure we are extremely good at the high-end stuff and are considered

for what there is.’ In addition, McLeod is considering the possibility

of starting a spin-off business, providing content and production nous

for some of these numerous new digital channels. ’The airtime will need

to be filled,’ he reasons. ’Digital animation might be a future


’Many post-production houses are diversifying at the moment,’ Richard

Ireland, managing director of Complete Facilities, says. ’Into sound,

film editing, feature film work. Read into that what you will. We will

have to change (in response to digital TV), but that’s the nature of

post-production. It’s changing all the time.’

Sharon Reed, managing director of the digital facilities company,

FrameStore, believes the impact of digital television will be

evolutionary and, indeed, that life won’t be too different from the way

it is now. ’We already have a good idea of who watches what, and can

target reasonably accurately,’ she says.

’And I don’t believe that the glossy, aspirational ads will ever go

away. They can be so powerful and have such an impact that advertisers

won’t stop making them. There may well be growth in lower and medium

cost ads, particularly with a more graphic feel - but we’ve got that

covered with FrameStore Design. The important thing is to be


Looked at from another angle, digital television could actually be a

boon for the post-production industry. After all, they are the people

who the ad agencies turn to for advice on the visual technologies;

instead of being squeezed out, they could find themselves positioned as

valuable go-betweens, bridging the gulf between agencies and television

companies. If they’re clever about it, they could actually be calling

the shots.

Miller has a naturally optimistic outlook. With the price of airtime

more than likely to fall, he argues, ’it could mean that smaller clients

who haven’t considered television advertising before will do so now’. So

there’d certainly be a greater quantity, though not necessarily quality,

of advertising passing through production company doors.

One thing’s for sure, Ireland points out: ’The format of the commercial

break will change. And it’s our business to make it attractive enough to

keep people watching it.’

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