TV channels 'speeding up shows to fit in more adverts'

Old favourites Friends and Seinfeld have been compressed to bump up the time allocated to ads

Television screen displaying the French user interface of US online streaming giant Netflix
(Image credit: STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/Getty)

Cable television networks in the United States are said to be speeding up the content of their shows to make more room for advertisements.

TBS, TNT and TV Land are reportedly among the channels using compression technology to speed up films and sitcoms, such as Seinfeld and Friends.

"As they contend with steep ratings declines, many top cable networks are jamming more ads into programming to meet audience guarantees made to advertisers and prop up revenue despite falling ad prices," says the Wall Street Journal.

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Cable channels have long made room for adverts by shortening opening credits, but speeding up the content is a "more subtle tactic TV networks use to achieve a higher volume of ads", says the newspaper.

Engadget claims programmes are being speeded up by as much as seven per cent. "A Seinfeld episode that originally ran 25 minutes was nearly 22 after the process, letting the broadcaster fit in about six extra spots," it says.

Engadget says the process is "irritating classic movie lovers" – for example, by giving King Kong a less menacing growl.

Stephen Cox, author of several pop-culture books, including one on The Wizard of Oz, told the Wall Street Journal he was "astounded" when he heard the munchkins singing in a rerun of the 1939 classic on TBS.

"Their voices were raised a notch," he said. "It doesn't look like The Keystone Kops, but you can tell by the voices."

According to ratings measurement firm Nielsen, average adverts per hour on US broadcast networks increased from 13 minutes and 25 seconds in 2009 to 15 minutes and 38 seconds last year. Some channels even have 20 minutes of non-programming content per hour, says the WSJ.

Critics have warned that the increase will reduce the effectiveness of the adverts and have a negative impact on ratings, pushing viewers towards advert-free streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon.

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