Time squeeze probe widens

Dec 17, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The American Association of Advertising Agencies is expanding its investigation into the use of Time Machines to create unauthorized extra local ad inventory on TV stations.
After several weeks of exploring the ramifications of the issue, the Local TV/Radio Committee of the AAAA, chaired by Initiative Media Executive VP Kathy Crawford, will take its concerns nationwide.
“This issue has been turned over to the National Broadcast Committee at the 4-As,” said Ms. Crawford.
In addition, Ms. Crawford will be reaching out to the Television Bureau of Advertising for help in reaching its nearly 500 members. “We will be asking the TVB to please spearhead a letter with us to their member stations that pretty much reflects the same stuff we asked the CBS owned stations,” Ms. Crawford said. That message: “We paid for 30 seconds and we expect to get 30 seconds,” she said.
Furthermore, Ms. Crawford voiced concern about a new device in the works from the same people who make the Time Machine. It’s called the Trimmer, and using technology similar to the Time Machine, it will enable TV stations to trim time from commercials that come into a station too long to fit the available pod slot. In other words, if a commercial meant for a 30-second slot arrives with a running time of 32 seconds, the Trimmer could be used to reduce the running time by two seconds. Putting such a device into the hands of local TV stations, with its potential for abuse, is very “worrisome,” said Ms. Crawford.
The Time Machine, manufactured by San Jose, Calif.-based Prime Image, allows stations to add extra spots by analyzing successive frames of a TV signal and looking for two that are enough alike that one can be tossed out. Nine hundred frames have to be thrown away to create a 30-second hole.
Ms. Crawford had expressed her concerns to CBS about use of Time Machines on the CBS owned-and-operated stations after the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review wrote that KDKA-TV had used the device during a live NFL football game on Oct. 14, and Electronic Media followed with reports that the practice was widespread on other stations as well.
“We want you to know that program compression is unacceptable,” the ad executive wrote in a Nov 9. letter to Fred Reynolds, president of the CBS TV stations group, on behalf of the AAAA. “Our clients’ commercials are already running in a `cluttered’ environment. Stations should not compress the program and add more time to the commercial pod, which increases the cluttered environment further.” More important, Ms. Crawford wrote, “This [Pittsburgh] incident also causes concern that this same technology could be used to compress commercials for the same purpose.” Mr. Reynolds, who like the network has addressed only the Oct. 14 KDKA incident, replied to Ms. Crawford with assurances that “Your commercial message has never been tampered with.”
Dimitri Vassilaros, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist who broke the original story, told EM last week that KDKA and CBS were being “stupid” and “dishonestly stupid” by pretending that the only time KDKA used the Time Machine on NFL games was Oct. 14. “One of the reasons I kept after the station for an explanation of why they were delaying a live game by 30 to 60 seconds when I saw it on Oct. 14 is because it was the second or third game in which I had noticed they had done it,” he said.
The revelations of widespread Time Machine use sent shock waves through the advertising world and through the local broadcasting community. Networks strictly forbid affiliates from manipulating network programming to add local inventory. Such a breach of the network affiliate contract could result in the local station losing its affiliate status.
“This is not about KDKA,” Ms. Crawford said, further explaining why the AAAA is broadening its investigation. “This is about 120 [Time] machines out there. At the national and local level, it is cause for concern.”