NBC, Meredith in compression violation talks

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NBC said Friday that it was in talks with Meredith Corp. about resolving charges
that Meredith's WSMV-TV Nashville, Tenn., used compression technology to add extra
commercial spots during network prime time, in violation of its affiliation
agreement.

The disclosure by the network followed the conclusion of NBC executive vice
president for affiliate relations John Damiano that the station had added a
30-second spot to the Oct. 2 West Wing.

Damiano had reviewed tapes supplied by Nashville journalist Jeremy Heidt, who
had informally probed the station's practices. Prior to the resolution talks,
NBC had planned to investigate other recent network airings over WSMV-TV through
monitoring services.

A Meredith spokesman Friday referred the matter to a company attorney, who
did not return calls by press time. Meredith officials -- including broadcast
group president Kevin O'Brie -- denied or pleaded ignorance to use of
programming compression in Nashville or at other stations. But several sources
have told Broadcasting & Cable's TV Fax that earlier this year,
O'Brien made clear his intent to use the compression machines to add commercial
spots for revenue gain, despite resistance from station management. Sources
confirmed that at least some machines were purchased by the group and delivered
to stations, but that did not necessarily mean the machines had been used.

Sources said the phone conferences included executives from across the
Meredith group and were held at a time when memories of CBS' embarrassing
experience with the technology at KDKA-TV Pittsburgh and other stations were
still fresh. Use of California-based Prime Image Inc.'s "Time Machine" can
imperceptibly control the speed of programming and allow a station or network to
add commercials.

Kathy Crawford, executive VP of ad-buying firm Initiative Media Worldwide,
was also concerned over whether ads themselves were being compressed and
whether the environment was becoming too cluttered.

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