Cable's Latest Great Idea: Speed Up Programs So They Can Stuff More Ads Into Every Hour

from the who-cares-about-quality dept

We’ve discussed numerous times that as the Internet video revolution accelerates, the cable and broadcast industry’s response has predominantly been to double down on bad ideas in the false belief that they can nurse a dying cash cow indefinitely. Netflix nibbling away at your subscriber totals? Continue to glibly impose bi-annual rate hikes. Amazon Prime Video eroding your customer base? How about we increase the hourly advertising load! Similarly, cable industry efforts at “innovative” viewing options (like TV Everywhere) are often more about giving the impression of innovation than actually innovating.

The latest example of cable industry tone deafness? With cable and broadcast ratings continuing to fall, more and more people have been complaining that the industry increasingly likes to speed up programs notably so more ads can be stuffed into every hour. By speeding up Seinfeld by about 7.5%, for example, the industry can manage to deliver an extra two minutes of ad time during the program:


This has been going on for a while, and as complaints in this Reddit thread attest, another favorite tactic has been to heavily edit some programs for the same purpose. Fans of particularly popular programs tend to be the first to notice that their favorite content is now edited or accelerated, which may drive them to look elsewhere for a better quality version of that product (piracy, Netflix). Behold, even many executives in the cable and broadcast industry appear to be aware that adding more ads and degrading the quality of your product might not be the greatest idea for an industry at the cusp of a major competitive sea change:

“It is important for us to consider the effect this is having on the viewer experience,? said Jackie Kulesza, executive vice president and director of video at Starcom USA. ?We want to ensure our message is seen by receptive viewers.”…”They are trying to deal with a problem in a way that is making the problem bigger,? said Chris Geraci, president of national broadcast at media buyer Omnicom Media Group of the practice of increasing the commercial loads to make up for declining ratings.”

Except the cable and broadcast industry has repeatedly shown it’s not really worried about the “viewer experience.” Why? Because for all of the bitching the public does about their cable company and its historically abysmal customer service, the industry knows the vast, vast majority continue to pay them an arm and a leg for bloated bundles of miserable programming that barely gets watched. Even as cord cutting accelerates, the industry isn’t worried; plan B is to abuse its monopoly over the broadband last mile to ramp up deployment of broadband caps, recouping their lost pound of flesh via broadband overage fees.

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Comments on “Cable's Latest Great Idea: Speed Up Programs So They Can Stuff More Ads Into Every Hour”

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77 Comments
Anon E. Mous (profile) says:

Yeah cause there isn’t enough commercials stuffed into a show’s hour or half hour time slot that is annoying so they want to stuff in more.

And they wonder why people like Netflix and online sources where you don’t have to sit thru commercials.

If you ever wonder why The Networks and big cable were against Dish’s box that allowed you to skip commercials, this is why never mind how scared they were that it might come to set top boxes for Cable and Telco customers further eroding their revenues

Brian says:

Re: Re:

As a cord cutter for several years now, I am appalled when I am forced to watch regular cable with channels and commercials. It is ridiculous. Navigation through these channels is insane. If I flip to a channel that is on a commercial… I have no idea what is playing. I am forced to sit through the stupid commercials just to get to the main show, only to find that I don’t want to watch that channel.

My solution is to just buy an Amazon Fire TV Stick with my Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, Amazon Prime, etc… and just use it wherever I am.

Just like purchased DVDs should NOT have commercials (trailers are ok). $1 Rented DVDs should. Same with Cable. Provide a heavily discounted rate that includes

Karl Bode (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I cut the cord years ago, and was recently invited to give Dish’s new SlingTV service for a spin. Have to admit that the entire concept of watching live television with ads felt aggressively alien to me. The ads in particular seemed even ridiculous than I’d remembered them: a cycle of selling you awful food layered with selling you the medicines you wouldn’t need if you ate better.

Ninja (profile) says:

So basically cable subscribers are paying for the privilege of watching advertisement and half-baked content. Even if they use their ISPs position it’s hardly going to help: with their bloated costs it’s much cheaper to set up a VPN via https to thwart any attempt of throttling and keep on Netflixing or torrenting.

They are just increasing the poison dose being injected in their veins.

Gnu D ogg says:

I am just waiting for net neutralities so I can drop my new vultural crapitalist 24/7 highest speed streaming video porn splog channel and make dem fool ass backbones just accept my network neutrality emissions and traffics.

Go on. Build that last mile out for me you stupid slave bitches!!!

While you whine about dem executive .gov FCC over-reach has flipped their lids, I PLAN TO PROFIT MY ASS OFF until the country grinds to a halt like a loco down a dirt road. ;o)

SERVICE MY TRAFFIC YOU NETWORK NEUTRALITIED TRAFFIC RACISTS … lol

(they hate my race because I have good naked traffic!)

I want the world to cum see all my new 24/7 3D HD Porn channels.

EXTRA EXTRA! I am goin to BEAT netflicks with my SKINFLIX out of my garage (aka SILICONE VALLEYS)

Doctor Duck (profile) says:

Not exactly new

This all started in the mid-1970s with the invention of the Harmonizer (Eventide Clockworks), a black box that could restore normal pitch to a sped-up videotape (which was itself made possible by the introduction of Type-C 1″ VTRs). Almost all programs in syndication used this. It’s far easier and cleaner now in digital, but it’s still an abomination IMO.

Back then a big problem was that the speedup garbled any closed captions. But there was no Disabilities Act then in the US. If that still happens, there’s now a legal route (ADA suit) to fight it, or at least make it less profitable.

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Re: Not exactly new

Exactly. It’s the “EDITED FOR TIME COMPRESSION” notation on the list of “Suitable for…” type stuff at the start of a show/movie.

It used to be really prevalent on movies shown after midnight, often with some hysterical results. I’ll never forget the synchronized dancing in Grease 2 under time compression. 🙂

It’s not enough that a one hour TV show is 42 minutes, they’ve got to edit it down or speed it up to only 39.5 minutes this way now. And forget about half hour shows, you’re lucky to get 15 minutes of content instead of the usual 18.

And don’t forget the 3-6 minutes of “free” commercials when they split-screen the credits at the end of a movie. One side credits in unreadable typeface, the other side commercials.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The trend has since moved overseas unfortunately, but on my visits to the US I was always struck by how the credits would be squashed to one side to make room for an advert for the next show. So, not only do the names of the cast and crew become unreadable, you’re literally pushing them aside for the next show before the audience knows who they are.

That’s another time irony plays strong here – when this happens, the unedited pirated copy is giving more credit to the people who made the thing than originating network is giving.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Not even the projects (film/TV) themselves necessarily credit everyone involved.

Often people who make a significant contribution don’t make the cut because of limited credit space and politics. If you want a sense on how limited space is, check out the wall of text for VFX artists part of the credit roll in a blockbuster feature near you – it’s not because they didn’t do much.

The cast and crew pages on services like IMDb do allow for people who aren’t credited to claim participation, however it can hardly be considered a full and complete picture.

I prefer my credit where it matters, in the credits for the piece. IMDb et al. provide a useful reference but are most definitely not canon.

st_nick5 says:

Fans of particularly popular programs tend to be the first to notice that their favorite content is now edited or accelerated, which may drive them to look elsewhere for a better quality version of that product (piracy, Netflix).

Something I noticed when watching Doctor Who on Netflix UK is that scenes had been cut out throughout the episodes (particularly the episodes ‘The Sound of Drums’ and ‘Last of the Time Lords’). I’m guessing this happened when American TV channels cut scenes out to make room for adverts, then sent those cut-down episodes to Netflix UK.

Jason says:

Re: Re:

I can’t speak to the Netflix aspect of that, but I’ve noticed that even on the broadcast versions. The first airing of an episode on BBC-America is (theoretically?) intact, but often any future reruns are edited.

Many of the worst examples are longer than normal episodes (like the two you mention, if I recall) so they get cut even more to fit into a normal “hour” time slot. (43-44 minutes or so.) Oftentimes some of my most favorite scenes (in “The Big Bang” for example) get edited out in reruns.

Good thing I still have the blu-rays to count on, I guess.

wereisjessicahyde (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Are you saying that on BBC America the very first airing has no ad interruptions but later they do? I ask because in the UK The BBC’s channels are completely ad free (everybody has to pay a licence fee) so programs originally aired in the UK tend to be 30 or 60 mins long – so they must have to cut them down to fit each hours adds in?

Jason says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Sorry, I see where I wasn’t clear there.

Yes, there is advertising on BBC America, the US-normal ~15 minutes per hour. It’s just that on first run episodes they will normally lengthen the overall time slot to accommodate the additional ad time. So, a 45-minute BBC episode airs in 60 minutes with commercials on BBCA, a 60-minute episode airs in 90 minutes, etc. Sometimes they’ll shuffle things around and there will be a block of odd times, e.g., two 1-hour-15-minute blocks back to back. Later on, with repeat airings, the shows get cut down to fit in a normal hour, so you lose whatever they decide isn’t important.

JEDIDIAH says:

Re: Re: Re:3 It's been a long, slow, steady decline...

In the US, there are different rules for shows depending on when they air. The rules for prime time shows are more restrictive. Thus anything that goes into syndication is going to end up cut down to some degree.

Not entirely sure how that works with “first run syndication” like TNG but it’s likely that expectations have deteriorated between then and now regardless.

The last time I watched network reruns on conventional TV (about 8 years ago), I noticed that 60s content had been cut down further from when I had seen it previously. It was so bad then that I no longer wanted to bother.

Jason says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

They have. I don’t normally watch the TNG reruns on TV but I caught a couple over the holidays. Amazingly, even though I hadn’t seen that particular episode in over a decade (or two?) I still knew that an entire conversation had been cut from a scene at the end. As usual, it was a nice character moment.

With TNG it’s probably happening way more often even than the new Doctor Who, if only because TNG was probably closer to 45-46 minutes per episode compared to the more modern 43-44.

LduN (profile) says:

NFL

I find NFL football to be unwatchable anymore, due to all the ads. 2-5 minutes of ads, kickoff (5 seconds) 2-5 minutes of ads, a few plays (maybe 5 minutes), 2-5 minutes of ads. The worst is during the last 2 minutes of the half/game. However, the part that really pisses me off is that sometimes during play they have a superimposed ad… as if there weren’t enough ads already. I haven’t really watched football going on 3 years due to this.

Anonymous Coward says:

I suppose playing old TV shows in fast-forward is better (i.e., less annoying) than cutting out minutes so they can cram even more commercial time into the hour.

It was ridiculous the way that local TV stations would usually trim old shows — they would simply shave off maybe 20 or 30 seconds at every commercial break. But since many ‘classic’ action tv shows placed commercial breaks in crucial cliff-hanger moments, cutting off those nail-biter sections completely destroyed all the highlights of the show, making viewers confused about what critical event had just taken place that they were not allowed to see.

Anonymous Coward says:

There’s only one show I care to watch, the Breaking Bad spinoff, and I do so through private tracker. Rent a VPS/seedbox for 5-6 months, run autodl-irssi, get a ratio so large that you can download at will while being behind your own seedbox through openvpn and download the stuff through sFTP.

I’d like things to be like they were in the 90’s and not have to do this, but I’m not fooling myself. Last days I had cable (well, I do now for my internet, which at least isn’t shitty like south of the border, I might get the hybrid cable/fibre cos it allows symmetric connections of 50/50 (I got 50/10 right now with my normal cable connection), I only watched 2 channels, the one where I could watch hockey (go Habs) or teletoon to watch the equivalent of adult swim and that was when I was still in college stoner, so around 2005. I just watch the games online now since the channel’s website offer pay per view streaming for like 2 bucks a game, and much lower if you buy a package.

wereisjessicahyde (profile) says:

You can pretty much guarantee that BBC show aired in the US will be cut, because in the UK the BBC’s channels have no ads. So each program is generally 30 or 60 minutes (give or take a minute or so to introduce the next program, or announce a future BBC program)so because BBC America shows commercial ads it means the program wont fit – so they cut it. Every minute of ads on BBC America is a minute cut from the original episode. I would guess about 10-15 mins every hour?

Jason says:

Re: Re:

Fortunately it’s not quite that bad, at least for the shows I watch. A “normal” length Doctor Who is around 45 minutes, so it mostly fits in an hour time slot with commercials. It’s the longer episodes (season finales, usually) that run in to trouble. The first airing on BBCA usually gets lengthened (1 hour 15 minutes, 1 hour 20, etc.) but almost never the reruns.

With Top Gear, which is normally a full 60 minutes on the BBC, the first runs on BBCA are in 90-minute time slots, but the reruns then get crunched to an hour.

They’ve gotten better at it in recent years, usually keeping the first run episodes at whatever length they need to be to add in advertising without missing anything, and then chop it for repeats. When I first started watching things were usually cut even on first runs, which was beyond annoying.

wereisjessicahyde (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Thanks for explaining, I often wondered how it worked. Believe it a not a large number of people hate the way The BBC (licence fee)works, largely because if you own a TV (or now any device capable of receiving live TV)you have to pay.

But for no ads ever it works out at about £12/month, far cheaper than any other service – basic SKY is about £50/month and you still get ads. Plus if you only watch “catch-up” ie not live you even have to pay anyway.

Some want the fee abolished but all that will happen is the quality will drop, it will be more expensive and we will get ads. People should be careful what they wish for.

Jason says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

When they lengthen the overall time slot it’s not the worst thing ever, I suppose, but another problem is that in many cases it also ruins the aesthetic quality of the episodes. Since BBC has no commercials there often aren’t any natural places to add them in, and that usually means ad breaks are jammed in between scenes (or even between shots) where they have no business being at all.

I’m not sure I’d be okay with a similar type of license fee or not. If the cable service was correspondingly cheaper then it may be worthwhile, but I don’t know… That’s $230 or so a year, and I can probably pick up the DVD/blu-rays for the shows I care enough about and still come out below that. (Even with the higher cost of some of the BBC releases!)

wereisjessicahyde (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I understand your point Jason, many other feel the same same way but it’s worth remembering although it is called a “TV Licence” fee it pays for the whole of the BBC apart from the commercial arms such as BBCA and BBC Asia etc. Loads of channels, digital and terrestrial radio and the worlds biggest news service.

The Daily Mail (the main stirrer of anti-BBC sentiment) and most of their readers seem to have a pathological hatred of Top Gear. But seem to forget that it’s sold all around the world, and with Doctor Who the two programs make an abosolute fortune the BBC.

I think the Daily Mails main problem is that they own ITV, the BBC’s main competitor. They don’t like the fact the BBC get £4 billion a year in fees. Which is a fair point I suppose.

But worth remembering you don’t have to pay. I don’t even own a TV, I watch everything on-line so I don’t need a license as long as I don’t watch it live. And the iPlayer service is exellent – online within minutes of an episode ending. I still pay it because I think the BBC is worth it.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“The Daily Mail… and most of their readers seem to have a pathological hatred”

You don’t need to even specify the rest of that sentence, it’s pretty much true of anything they regularly write about.

Unless you want to add the words “stirred up by often misleading and/or outright false articles written in the Mail”, in which case the clarification is useful to understand why.

Jason says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

True, I do tend to forget that it’s not “just” TV. I’m not nearly as familiar with the various BBC Radio outlets or what they do as I am with TV though, although for my money BBC Radio has been a net positive for the world if for no other reason than their excellent adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. (I’m not forgetting their news coverage and what not, of course… I only mean in context of creating programming.)

I got to try out iPlayer on my last visit to England (catching up on some recent Doctor Who I’d missed, in fact) and it was pretty good. (Or maybe it was something else… it was through the TV, not online, so honestly I’m not sure now exactly what it was.)

Sheogorath (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

[…] if you own a TV (or now any device capable of receiving live TV) you have to pay [the licence fee].
No, you don’t. According to the legislation, you have to “install or use equipment for the purposes of viewing television programmes.” So a manager who allows employees to watch live football on a TV originally installed for displaying presentations has to pay a licence fee, but I don’t even though my TV can receive TV broadcasts because I set it up to receive radio broadcasts only and use it for that, watching DVDs, and playing console games. Simples!

Anonymous Coward says:

Ive also seen quite a few promo’s of the next episode super imposed on the last few seconds of the still currently running episode, changing the audio focus aswell……..so im there, paying attention to the final outcome of a show, wondering how its gonna end, and then all of a sudden a box appears, the audio focus changes, and im left there ignoring this intrusion, staring at the show i cant listen to the end off………whose freaking bright idea was that

I think its safe to assume this is another thing done to get a few extra seconds for ads

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Old hat in radio

A friend of mine is a radio host, and a number of years back he was showing me his studio and pointed to a box that the station called the “money machine”. This is the box that introduces the delay to allow time to bleep out forbidden words, but what earned it the nickname was that it would also speed up the audio without introducing a pitch-shift.

The “secret”, he informed me, was that the station would speed up the commercials themselves so they could run more of them.

It’s a shame that television doesn’t take that approach.

Anonymous Coward says:

Time Compression

They’ve been doing that for years, it’s a process called “Time Compression”. Typically you can speed things up, up to about 4% before it becomes extremely noticeable (music cues are the big giveaway) however many are going as high as 20%. There are MUCH better ways to do this than besides doing a straight compression across the board (however most stations don’t give a crap and just go with it) but I BELIEVE ME-TV is using “variable compression” where it will speed up the more static scenes while easing up on dialogue and music scenes.

Rekrul says:

Channels cutting parts of shows to squeeze in more commercials has been going on for many, many years.

Growing up, I used to watch Star Trek on various syndicated channels. When the SciFi Channel got the rights to it, they made a big deal out of airing the episodes uncut. They devoted 90 minutes to each episode and there were scenes I’d never seen before.

When watching DVD copies of The Twilight Zone, which is another show I used to watch back in the 70s and 80s, I saw scenes that had never been shown in any of the repeats I watched.

I used to like the show Still Standing until it was canceled. I’ve been looking for good copies of the episodes, but the only ones I could find were recorded off Lifetime. In one of the first episodes I watched I noticed a whole gag that had been edited out.

Rekrul says:

Re: Can they speed up the ads too?

I wonder if they can speed up the ads. Then they could fit in even more. Heck, they might make so much ad revenue that they wouldn’t even need to broadcast the program.

I was told by someone at TNT that they aren’t legally allowed to alter ads in any way.

It was back when channels were just starting to add logos to the corner of the screen. TNT started doing it while the show Babylon 5 was on and I complained to the network. They wrote back and claimed that people loved the logos because they helped viewers find their favorite channels. I told him that if they wanted to make channels easier to find, they should put the logo on during commercials. That’s when he told me that they aren’t allowed to put anything over the commercials.

John Nemesh (profile) says:

Ads, ads everywhere

Another sleazy tactic I noticed the other night. I tuned into USA Network…Independence Day was on (the best choice of available programming at the time, which says a LOT right there!.

I tuned to the channel…and commercials were airing. IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING the commercial, the movie starts up, it’s the big scene where the alien ships first appear…you see the shadow of one crawl slowly across the National Mall, and approach the Washington Monument…then “Bzzzt”! A special effect is added, similar to what you see in a movie when someone “hacks” a TV signal…the picture then cuts to a 3 second COMMERCIAL for their new TV show “The Dig”…complete with audio (a whispered voiceover)…then “Bzzt!” Back to the movie!

Bad enough that we have to sit through an HOUR AND A HALF of commercials for a 90 minute movie…but now they are interrupting the movie itself to add additional ads???

Seriously…screw this shit! I would rather do just about ANYTHING else than watch cable TV these days!

Anonymous Coward says:

You’d think that the content industry would be fighting to disallow this kind of tactic.

They’ve taken networks to court over unauthorized ‘scrubbing’ of movies to make it more family-friendly when the content creators didn’t want that.

Why can’t they use similar contracts? The networks are essentially editing the content.

Anonymous Coward says:

Ads, ads everywhere

I make extensive use of an entertainment and information technology that’s random-access, variable rate, is uninterrupted by commercials, utilizes fully-recyclable and renewable “green” technology, is workable only with solar lighting, and consumes no electricity. The media durability varies from hundreds to thousands of years. Bookmarks and notes are fully supported. And you don’t even need a live broadband connection!

It’s called a “buk” or “boook.” It consists of paper leaves with static text or graphics. The buk is a descendant of an earlier “scroll” technology, which worked in much the same fashion, though without the buk’s random-access capability.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: For some it also works as a sedative.

The technology is a codex which is constructed from a bound stack of pages, rather than a single sheet coiled into a scroll. The new design allows access to any part of the work quickly rather than having to roll through the entire work in sequence until you get to the desired part. Codices are also easier to maintain.

A book or bōc is a journal or sketchbook to assist children in learning to read and write.

One of the problems of the codex technology is that it is really rather biodegradable, to the point our libraries once had to be staffed with transcribers to continuously restore old works onto new media. This process was improved by the use of movable type and the printing press.

These days, the codex is still used as a device for distribution, but originals are kept in digital form to be accessed by computer-controlled printing presses that can rapidly produce a run of cheap-but-efficient plastic-coated soft-bound codices for rapid dissemination. But this technology is currently being challenged due to the e-book which allows one to carry the contents of many many codices without the pesky burden.

New technologies always present new problems, but usually ones smaller than the problems they solve, otherwise, yes. People will fall back to older technologies. Ergo, drug dealers and old-fashioned not-so-smartphones that don’t track them.

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