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NPR Arts & Life

Amid Declining Ratings, Cable Networks Speed Up Reruns To Make Room For Ads

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Have you ever watched a sitcom rerun on cable and thought to yourself, something is off? Well, listen to this. Here's a clip from an episode of "Friends" as it was originally broadcast.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FRIENDS")

JENNIFER ANISTON: (As Rachel) I hope that's OK.

DAVID SCHWIMMER: (As Ross) Oh, shoot - tomorrow's not so good. I'm supposed to fall off the Empire State building and land on a bicycle with no seat, so...

(LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: Now, this is the same scene as it aired last night on the cable channel TV Land. Listen closely. The voices of Rachel and Ross are just a little bit higher.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FRIENDS")

ANISTON: (As Rachel) I hope that's OK.

SCHWIMMER: (As Ross) Oh, shoot - tomorrow's not so good. I'm supposed to fall off the Empire State building and land on a bicycle with no seat, so...

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

It's a subtle difference, but it's no accident. Here's Joe Flint of The Wall Street Journal.

JOE FLINT: This has become a lot more commonplace in the television industry, using technology and compression to speed-up television shows.

SIEGEL: By our calculations, if you speed up a half-hour program by 5 percent - that's about the difference between the two clips that we just heard - you create an extra 90 seconds of commercial time. And with decreasing revenues, cable channels want more time for more advertising.

MCEVERS: Cable networks haven't publicly acknowledged they're doing this. We called TV Land, but didn't hear back. Flint says compressing shows isn't new, but it's becoming more prevalent, which means more viewers are noticing.

SIEGEL: And so are advertisers, who worry too many commercials will cause people to find their favorite shows elsewhere.

FLINT: You can get them on Netflix, and you can get them without ads, and you can get them without edits and get them at the proper speed.

SIEGEL: Flint says speeding up sitcoms could end up slowing revenue further if annoyed advertisers start putting their money elsewhere.

MCEVERS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.