Commentary

Is it Live... Or Is It HDTV?

  • by April 2, 2007
Those who continue to wax poetic with gloomy prognostications about the "death of television" and the :30 commercial should have witnessed the premiere of Discovery/BBC/NHK's "Planet Earth" series this past weekend. My guess is they missed it altogether.

This is not just a tour de force of some of the most powerful and precise imagery ever captured in motion and broadcast into the home. It represents the sheer power of HD imagery to place us in an almost mesmerized "lean-back" state of mind -- while the rest of the ad market obsesses about the profitability of lean-forward online video opportunities. It also left me wondering what chance those of us digerati will ever have of replicating this kind of visual experience in a video desktop window online. Joost or not, this footage is way sharper than your average bear.

And frankly, that's a good thing.

Never mind that the weak writing, random transitions, and episode-ending self-congratulatory segments bring the "Planet Earth" series down from its pedestal of powerful imagery and epic scoring. The point is, as a benchmark for HD video content, at long last there's a series that rescues us from the plethora of reality-based content and lo-fi user-generated videos that have been seducing the online and offline entertainment media and ad community of late. I'd even go so far as to say that "Planet Earth" restores your faith in television's ability to transport you en masse, where no broadband connection has dared to go before.

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But what do you do for an encore online? Visiting the Planet Earth Web site, you find an equally stunning array of still images and deeper, richer video content that let you go beyond the on-air show. There's even an opportunity to become "producer" of your own expedition, with authoring tools and assets for you to craft your own experience through a gaming offering. Talk about engagement.

Which brings me to my next point. Now that we're in the age of measuring engagement instead of just impressions, one can't help but wonder whether current definitions of engagement do justice to an on-air and online experience like this. From a creative engagement point of view, will an "engagement rating" go far enough to represent the real human "WOW" and time spent with content like this?

Many advertisers took an opportunity to draft off the content with like visual context. Advertisers like GE, Cisco and The Nature Conservancy found great contextual relevance being adjacent to the grandeur of this epic content. Meanwhile, executions from brands like Bank of America and SC Johnson either under-delivered on the HD format, or their message didn't leverage the context of the series. But kudos to Joe Abruzzese and his sales team for placing the series' advertisers back where Discovery's roots were -- with the best of the best of non-fiction programming.

For all the libraries of nature-based programming content and stock footage that are out there, this one is about as engaging a non-fiction environment as any marketer, green or otherwise, could wish for -- riveting content whose sweeping, epic and crisp detail is the envy of non-fiction programmers everywhere.

So while we continue to ponder the elasticity of broadband video and its pre-roll problems, inflated CPMs and trendiness, let us at least relish for the moment the resurgence of this new lean-back cable television series, "Planet Earth," from which we can see like never before how small we really are, and what a truly amazing place our home is. Both live... and in HDTV.

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