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Time Machine: Ethical or Cheating?

NBC is investigating WSMV, an NBC affiliate in Nashville, TN, for the use of a Time Machine to add more local commercial time during prime time programming. Using this mechanism cuts duplicate frames so more commercials can be added and sold.

The controversy of the Time Machine stems from national programs being reduced in length as well as the national commercials appearing within those programs. Most network affiliates have contracts forbidding them from using a Time Machine for this very reason.

NBC has already discovered an extra 30 seconds of local commercials added to WSMV's airing of West Wing, with a suspected two minutes added. WSMV reportedly added more local commercial time during Friends, ER and Ed as well. NBC is currently in discussions with its lawyers as to the actions to take, if any, against the affiliate.

Just last year the American Association of Advertising Agencies denounced the use of Time Machines. The organization asked all networks to require contracts from the affiliates, banning the use of the devices.

Another aspect of the Time Machine issue relates specifically to the purchaser of advertising time. The amount of advertising clutter already hitting the airwaves is only bottlenecked with the addition of more commercials. Advertisers think they're getting into prime advertising time, but with a deluge of commercials, their message is lost in the mix.

Just last year KDKA in Pittsburgh, PA, was found to be using a Time Machine during the broadcast of a Steelers game. The CBS affiliate was selling additional time for each Steelers game from $5,000 to $10,000 a pop.

The NFL investigated and found KDKA to be condensing coverage, a violation of the NFL's contract. However, KDKA being an affiliate and not CBS itself, the repercussions weren't as severe.

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