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June 19, 2006 12:04 PM   Subscribe

What is up with television commercials that get cut off, played over, or otherwise mishmashed by other commercials on cable television?

Not that I'm paying rapt attention to the advertisments, but I can't help but notice that on many pay-for-cable stations it's rare for a commerical break to go by without at least one ad being cut off, start half way through, or a second or two of an ad being squished between two other unrelated ads.

It's not something I feel compelled to file a complaint about: this is my parents' television, I don't live with them or have cable myself, and I'm not an avid television viewer to begin with. But I am plagued with curiousity as to how this even happens. What is going on to cause one ad to play over or interupt other ads? Also, why do advertisers put up with it when they are paying money for air time that clearly isn't delivered? While amusing to me I doubt it helps sell any products.

I know next to nothing about television broadcasting or anything related so I would love to be better educated!

My parents are on Adelphia broadband in the northeast U.S. if it makes a difference.
posted by nelleish to Grab Bag (8 answers total)
My friend's father works for NBC and his job is to send the feeds from NBC to the affiliates. This stream sometimes includes blank spaces for local ads. My understanding is that most of the time it actually has ads in these spaces designated as local ad slots and the local stations are supposed to just layer their ads over that.

You can see where the mistakes come in.
posted by meta x zen at 12:09 PM on June 19, 2006

A lot of local affiliates or local cable operators are given ad spaces that they *can* fill, but don't *have* to fill. If they don't fill them, the national ad runs. If they do fill them, the local ad may run a few seconds after the main ad based upon either timing differences or the ad changing 'signal' not being sent over the feed and a backup system triggering the ad.

Alternately, it could be an error in the control room where an ad didn't run when it was supposed to with the automated equipment and someone had to switch it in manually.
posted by SpecialK at 12:10 PM on June 19, 2006

Best answer: I believe it has to do with localized commercials being played over top the standard cable distributed ones....and the bad splicing can be due to a number of reasons. My best guess is a lot of cable distributers still run their local ads analog, so I'm betting that the timing is off if the commercial layout changes from the stream that they are expecting.

Some more info...
posted by samsara at 12:18 PM on June 19, 2006

In Canada this happens all the time on US cable stations like CNN, A&E, etc. Local commercials are spliced in replacing the ones sent along by the American feeds. Same thing happens on channels that act as repackagers of American TV content, like CTV and Global.
posted by loquax at 1:10 PM on June 19, 2006

Samsara hit it with DPI Digital Program Insertion.

The way the deal breaks down for every national feed a certain number of ad breaks are left to be sold by the local cable market. The National Feed has cueing messages that tell a splicer in the cable headend which ads can be replaced. These can be replaced by either the local affiliate or the cable network themselves.

Sometimes this doesn't always work correctly.
posted by bitdamaged at 1:26 PM on June 19, 2006

I've wondered about this too, so thanks for asking the question.

What hasn't been answered yet is why does the same ad often run multiple times in one commercial break? I've even seen the same ad run back to back (and sometimes to back again!). Could it be that locally, someone sold the same commercial, and so it gets put into the local "slot", not knowing (or caring) that the same ad also runs nationally, and may even be running next in the queue?
posted by SuperSquirrel at 1:31 PM on June 19, 2006

Commercials aren't "queued" by people they're scheduled via different software packages sold by shows, demographics and number of spots per daypart.

So this most likely happens in cases where there just haven't been enough ads purchased so the software doubles up some ads.
posted by bitdamaged at 3:17 PM on June 19, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers folks! Gives me more to go on in my understanding. It seems like such a random thing to ask, but I've always wondered. Thanks again!
posted by nelleish at 7:00 AM on June 20, 2006

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