[Tig] Down with 4x3!

Marc Wielage mfw at musictrax.com
Fri May 27 03:50:19 BST 2011

This just came up on another discussion group, but I thought it was relevant
here, and I could blow off some steam...

I've worked on thousands of commercials in my life, and more bad TV shows
than I can possibly remember. (There's 44 network TV series on my resume,
but I think I left a few out.)

Almost all big-budget TV commercials nowadays are shot, edited, and finished
in 16x9 HD. Many advertising agencies are terrified that the "great
unwashed" among TV viewers still cling to 4x3 sets, and so they deliberately
air all commercials in 4x3, regardless of how they're shot. As a result, we
see a variety of bizarre aspect ratio combinations and flaws on HD

* 16x9 letterboxed inside a 4x3 frame (all too common)

* 16x9 squeezed inside a 4x3 frame, where everybody looks anorexic

* 16x9 with the sides cut off to fit a 4x3 frame (and not panned/scanned)

* "fattenized" 4x3 images that have been stretched to fill a 16x9 frame,
making everybody look about 25% distorted and overweight

* "fattenized" 4x3 images that are stretched, then the sides are cut off
inside a 4x3 frame (I swear, I've seen this on network stations).

What we don't see often enough:

* 16x9 HD that precisely fits a 16x9 frame, the way it was shot.

Ideally, what the commercial producers and ad agency people should do is,
shoot the commercial for 16x9, then position the graphics for 4x3 so that,
no matter what, viewers with old sets or new sets will still be able to read
the advertising messages.

I think there's a lot of confusion and very bad decisions being made, by
advertising agencies, by local stations, by cable channels, and by networks.
What blows me away is that I'll see a million-dollar Mercedes commercial
that I know for a fact was intended for 16x9, and it's being aired matted
inside a tiny 4x3 frame, on my $4000 HD set. And within the same commercial
break, a few minutes later, the exact same spot will air and it's in 16x9,
filling the screen.

My opinion is that due to layoffs and cutbacks, there aren't enough smart
people employed by local stations and networks to review every spot that
comes in and sound an alarm when it's a standard-def commercial airing on a
high-def station, or a 4x3 spot that really should be 16x9.

I believe airing these spots in 4x3 is an insult to the directors, the
cinematographers, the art directors, the colorists, the sponsors, and all
the other creative people who worked on these commercials.  It's insane, and
it's just gotta stop.

--Marc W.

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