WSMV-TV rouses network ire by adding time

Prime Image’s Time Machine, used to electronically add extra commercial time to a standard primetime broadcast, is in the news once again, this time at Meredith Corp.-owned WSMV-TV, the Nashville, Tenn.-based NBC affiliate.

WSMV-TV is being accused of using Prime Image's Time Machine to make room for more local commercials. The Time Machine “creates” up to 30 seconds of extra commercial time in a 20 to 30 minute program by speeding up video playback slightly.

The station has been accused of using the technology to make room for more local commercials, which is strictly forbidden by network affiliate agreements; although it’s being used more often than many want to admit.

John Damiano, NBC executive vice president for Affiliate Relations, has reviewed a series of WSMV-TV broadcasts and concluded that the station had added a 30-second spot to the Oct. 2 season premiere of “ The West Wing.” While a penalty is being discussed, a spokesperson at WSMV-TV said the station would have no comment.

Local stations across the country are careful not to publicize use of the device because like all of the networks, NBC affiliate agreements state that use of such technology, which reduces the actual length of video programming to make room for additional ad time, is not allowed. Stations caught adding extra time could face fines or other compensation by their respective network.

A Prime Image representative would not reveal any customers of the Time Machine. It's clear, however, that the company markets the machine and has even improved upon it with a new digital version. On its Web site,, Prime Image openly states that the device “creates additional time slots for commercial television operations, providing additional revenue.”

The incident came to light after a reporter at the Nashville City Paper revealed extra commercial time had been added during “The West Wing.” By comparing WSMV-TV’s primetime broadcast with NBC broadcasts from affiliates in Toledo, Detroit, Atlanta and Huntsville, Ala., Business Editor Jeremy Heidt said he was able to notice a delay when the station came back from a commercial break.

After the article appeared this month it was brought to the attention of NBC’s Damiano, who ordered videotapes going back 28 days of WSMV-TV broadcasts to check for evidence.

The new version the Time Machine features serial digital I/O, including optional multi-format HDTV capability. Like the analog version in use at WSMV-TV and elsewhere, it “creates” up to 30 seconds of extra commercial time in a 20 to 30 minute program by speeding up video playback slightly. It also uses real-time compression techniques to eliminate redundant frames.

The Time Machine also allows creation of as much as 2.5 minutes of extra commercial time. Users can vary and preprogram the amount of additional time created and the period over which it is created.

With network-affiliate relations being stressed in highly competitive times, local stations are desperate for additional revenue. The Time Machine is one example of a technology that can make room for more commercials, although other methods, such as the use of videotape machines accurately synchronized, have been used in the past as well.

In a weak ad economy, the issue is a sensitive one for the networks because they do not want to upset national advertisers, which claim that because of the technology, the viewer is not getting the full time that the sponsors are buying to sell their products. Stations have also used the Time Machine for short news and weather breaks.

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