What is AFD? (Active Format Description) And Why Do You Need It for TV Spot Production?

Fred Cunha  | 

What is AFD? (Active Format Description)

Television spot production may be complex, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be difficult. In an effort to demystify some of the common technical terms used by the industry, we’re providing an ongoing “cheat sheet” of terms and tips advertisers can reference to make sure their TV spots look their best. Today’s topic is AFD (Active Format Description). AFD is a set of codes embedded in a broadcast video stream that can tell a consumer’s TV/receiver how to display video on the viewer’s television. The codes can be used to determine how HD video should appear when downconverted and viewed in standard definition, regardless of whether the viewer is watching on an SD TV or an HD TV. So why should you use AFD in your next commercial? And what problems can it help avoid?

First, AFD is a great way to preemptively deal with “postage stamp,” the result of seeing black bars all around a spot (a combination of “letterbox” – black bars at the top and bottom – and “pillarbox” – black bars on both sides) on an HD TV when watching an SD feed. If an HD spot is 4:3 safe (all action and titles are within the 4:3 frame), setting a “16:9 (alternative 4:3 center)” AFD flag will prevent the “postage stamp” effect if the AFD flag makes it all the way to the TV/receiver (not all networks and equipment support AFD).

If an HD spot is not 4:3 safe, you’re not necessarily worried about “postage stamp.” Your main concern here is that nothing gets cut-off on the downconversion. Imagine, for instance, that you are advertising a car with a price tag of $42,650, but when the spot is downconverted, a critical piece of that number gets cut-off and the price viewers see appears as 2,650. This scenario can happen if the spot is viewed on an SD TV or if the viewer is watching the SD feed on an HD TV. Not good, right? By applying a “16:9 (complete image protected)” AFD flag, you can help avoid situations like this one.

AFD can also help avoid the “letterbox” effect if a viewer is watching on an SD TV. Some networks default to “letterbox” spots on the downconversion to ensure no information is left out. While nothing gets cut-off, this involves the addition of black bars at the top and bottom of your creative and that may not be what you had in mind.

So do you need to use AFD? While it’s true that not every network supports AFD, think of it like an insurance policy that helps you avoid downconversion issues with those networks that use AFD. Even if some don’t recognize the AFD flag, it requires little effort to include, and gives you the peace of mind that your creative will air as you intended on the networks that support AFD.

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