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News, Weather, and Sports

Last week the local ABC affiliate in Los Angeles, KABC, became the first station in California (or so they said) to broadcast their local news programs in high definition. That includes the midday, late afternoon, early evening, and late night editions. And while that might not raise hosannas for a station whose idea of news includes shameless plugs for what's coming up that evening on Dance With the Stars, when you've got endless hours of news time to fill, what do you expect—an in-depth analysis of what's happening at city hall?

But I digress. A local newscast converting to high definition is an important event. And their in-studio offerings look sensational. If they don't quite give off those looking-out-the-window vibes, they're close. But as with ESPN HD, most of the on-location reports—those ballroom moves, the latest local shootings, the occasional mudslide or two—are still in standard definition. But it's a start.

This development also got me cogitating (writers cogitate a lot) on how high definition might impact local news coverage. Will anchors have to retire at 29, or when the first crows foot appears, whichever comes first—in much the same way as MTV has seriously limited opportunities for singers who look anything less than hot off the griddle? Will stations invest in the equipment necessary to provide full HD coverage of all local news stories? Will the networks provide them with HD feeds of important national and international developments?

And will people care? It will be interesting to check the ratings for KABC's newscasts in a few months to see how they've changed. I hope they go through the roof, though there are probably not enough HD sets yet, even in LA, to produce more than a minor ripple. But even a couple of points mean big bucks in the broadcast business, and might be enough to inspire other local stations to follow suit. Every little bit helps in the march to high definition world domination.

Changing channels for a moment, Michael Fremer beat me to cyberspace in his blog on last week's Super Bowl. I agree with him that the game itself has looked better in previous HD broadcasts. As I've noted here before (in commenting on games during the regular season), I found the medium and close-up shots excellent, but the long shots of the field, as the teams lined up for each play, still didn't meet the full resolution I expect from high definition. The edge transitions just didn't look crisp, nor did shots of the crowd.

But it's certainly possible that my cable company was futzing with the bandwidth. I've said it before: If broadcasters, cable companies, satellite providers, and, yes, even some future internet HD download service can find a way to screw up the quality of high definition to make more money, they'll be happy to do so. This is exactly why I feel so strongly about the need for high definition on a single, affordable, high quality, HD optical disc packaged format.

As for those Super Bowl commercials, my favorite was also the Busby Berkeley-style Berger King spot. If you missed it, you'll probably be able to catch it again in other programs. I also liked the Budweiser stadium card-section spot. Bud dropped a wad of cash judging from the number of commercial slots they bought. They must have been under the delusion that viewers might actually find the time to buy and use their product during the game.

While I was happy to see so many of the Super Bowl commercials in high definition, I was disappointed—but not surprised—that at least half the car commercials were in standard definition. It's as unbelievable to me as it was to Michael how a company can drop over a million dollars (or whatever it costs this year) for a few seconds of airtime, probably as much again in the production budget, and then skimp on the extra pennies (comparatively speaking) that an HD commercial will cost. Is it possible that ad agencies have ongoing relationships with certain production houses, and if the house they work with (and perhaps have a contract with) hasn't yet gone HD, they simply settle for what they can get? If so, they're guilty of either ignorance or laziness. Notice to all advertisers of future major events: If your ad agency doesn't at least provide you with a proposal to do the next premier commercial in HD, particularly for a product as visually arresting as a new automobile, get a new ad agency.

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