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Super Ads, Average Def for Super Bowl

Advertisers may have agreed to the record $2.6 million for a 30-second spot during CBS’ Super Bowl XLI broadcast. But not all were willing to cough up the premium—perhaps an additional 10% in production costs—for delivering their spots in HD.

By our count, 22 of the 69 Super Bowl commercials ran in SD, including those from luxury brands like Mercedes-Benz and technology companies like Motorola.

Ten of those standard-def ads, such as Blockbuster’s "mouse" spot, were in the 4:3 aspect ratio used by analog TVs. The rest were shot in widescreen but "letter-boxed" for 4:3 screens. So on a 16:9 HD screen, the ads appeared as a smaller widescreen image, with black borders on all four sides.

Since less than 15% of TV households receive HD, it’s understandable that some advertisers passed on the cost of hi-def—even for the Super Bowl, which typically features far more HD ads than normal programming on the broadcast networks.

But some standard-def holdouts were surprising—and more than a little ironic. Toshiba, for one, ran an ad produced for conventional screens that touted its HD-DVD high-definition disc player—a product designed specifically for widescreen HDTV sets.

A Toshiba spokesman insists the spot was produced and broadcast in HDTV. But it sure didn’t fill our screen.