Cable Channels Speed Up TV Shows To Cram In More Ads

Anyone who’s watched a syndicated TV show on basic cable is already familiar with some methods of trimming the fat off of shows — shorter opening credits, sped-up closing credits that may overlap on-screen ads or the next show — but what you may not have noticed is that some cable networks are actually speeding up shows and movies to squeeze in more commercials.

This is according to the Wall Street Journal, which reports that TBS and others are using compression technology to play content back at a slightly faster clip in order to get a few more seconds of air time for ads.

Reruns of Seinfeld, Friends, and other shows are getting the rapid playback treatment on top pay-TV networks like TNT and TBS, and most people are none the wiser. And even movie classics are being sped up, as one expert on The Wizard of Oz noticed during a recent airing on TBS.

“Their voices were raised a notch,” he tells the Journal about the already high-pitched Munchkin characters in the 1939 film.

Some cable channels have gotten so edit- and compression-happy that they can now fit in more than 20 minutes of ads each hour, several minutes more than what you’ll find on most prime-time network broadcasts.

“It is a way to keep the revenue from going down as much as the ratings,” one pay-TV exec explains to the Journal. “The only way we can do it is to double down and stretch the unit load a little more.”

While you might assume that TV advertisers would be happy with more opportunities for running their commercials, not everyone in the ad business is thrilled about all this cramming.

“They are trying to deal with a problem in a way that is making the problem bigger,” says the president of national broadcast at media buyer Omnicom Media Group.

And the content producers who supply these shows and movies the cable channels are also concerned about the way things are heading.

“It has gotten completely out of control,” the head of distribution for one major TV studio tells the Journal. “I’m concerned when you look at the performance being diminished and hurt by their running the shows that way.”

This YouTube clip from 2013 shows the speed difference between an original copy of a Seinfeld episode and a TBS rerun. According to the person who posted it, the increase in playback speed would allow for two additional minutes of commercials in a single half-hour episode: