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The Sneaky Way Cable Networks Are Making You Watch More Commercials

bored man watching TV
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You're not just imagining it: Networks are speeding up shows and movies to pack in more commercials.

Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I’ve increasingly felt that I’m watching more commercials than I did a mere decade before. And that’s not because I’m watching more TV — if anything, I’m watching less live television as streaming video and outside interests take more of my free time. Instead, it feels like the average live TV show has more commercials. Perhaps you’ve felt that way, too.

Of course, on the surface this sounds downright silly. The average running time of a sitcom hasn’t substantively changed in the last decade or so — with the average one-hour broadcast drama running time clocking in at roughly 42 minutes in 2005, close to its current length — after dropping from 48 minutes in the ’80s. In addition, many shows on cable TV are reruns of fan favorites that were filmed over a decade ago, so it would be difficult to substantively edit the material for commercial purposes.

But according to the The Wall Street Journal, if you’re watching cable reruns of Seinfeld and Friends you may notice the comedic timing differs from what you’re used to. So, if you think the Soup Nazi is telling George, “No soup for you” a tad faster than normal, you’re right: Networks are speeding up shows and movies to pack in more commercials.

You’d think more ads equals more money… but not really

Cable networks are facing a crisis of sorts: As more individuals choose to cut the cord, cable needs to air more ads to fulfill audience guarantees made to advertisers. If you think of television as a commercial delivery model, falling audience members need to be offset by rising per-audience ad costs or to increase the “unit load” (read: number of commercials) to reward shareholders. If neither happens, then shareholders will experience declining ad-based revenues.

For network shareholders, this is more bad news when it comes to the ad-based business. As advertising dollars follow eyeballs, marketers are now shifting ad dollars to digital with media research firm Magna expecting television ad revenue to drop 1.4% this year. Considering ad dollars are flowing away from television, the first option of charging more for ads is out of the question for networks.

So far, the response to competing for ad based dollars consists of speeding up programming to get the real content: ads. The journal specifically mentions Time Warner’s TIME WARNER INC. TWX -0.68% TBS and Viacom’s VIACOM INC. VIAB 0.47% TV Land as culprits of show tampering. And although the WSJ doesn’t address the speed of commercials, it’s safe to assume they are still regular speed.

Advertisers, shareholders, or viewers, pick two … or none

On the surface you’d think this practice would please two stakeholders (advertisers and shareholders) at the expense of viewers, but you’d be wrong. Advertising firm Omnicom Media’s [time=stock symbol=OMC] president, Chris Geraci, was quoted as saying, “They are trying to deal with a problem in a way that is making the problem bigger.” For advertisers, the fear of ad saturation reducing the effectiveness of each individual ad is a legitimate concern.

For shareholders, this is a very myopic policy that will probably alienate current viewers. Recently, Nielsen found that millennials are ditching traditional TV at a “shocking” rate. Forcing a product of decreasing quality on viewers will result in further shifts away from the format altogether. And that’s not good for advertisers, shareholders, or the remaining viewers left to pay higher affiliate fees for Chipmunk-like programming.

As for my earlier conspiracy-theorist paranoia, I’ll leave you with a quote from Catch-22 author Joseph Heller: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”

TIME celebrities

See Taylor Swift and Karlie Kloss on the Cover of Vogue

Mikael Jansson—Vogue Karlie Kloss and Taylor Swift on the March 2015 cover of Vogue

Plus a BFF photo-shoot

Not all best friends get to pose together on the cover of Vogue — but Taylor Swift and Karlie Kloss aren’t like normal best friends.

Their Vogue photo shoot is full of painfully beautiful images of the most aspirational type of female friendship: cuddling in the sunlight, baking cookies and strumming on a guitar, taking selfies in a convertible, all wearing impossibly gorgeous couture.

“People had been telling us for years that we needed to meet,” Swift tells Vogue. “I remember makeup artists and hair people going, ‘God, she and Karlie would be best friends.”

Once they were introduced by model Lily Aldridge, the chemistry was instant. “We were just like, ‘You. My friend. Now,'” Swift says.

So what are they doing for Galentine’s Day?

TIME Television

This Is When Jennifer Aniston Thinks the Friends Reunion Should Happen

Jennifer Aniston
Jordan Strauss—Invision/AP Jennifer Aniston arrives at the 20th annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards at the Hollywood Palladium on Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015, in Los Angeles

Don't hold your breath

Jennifer Aniston has repeated her idea for a Friends reunion to take place, well, not any time soon.

“Why not wait ’til we’re really, really old and then put us up there?” Aniston told E! News Wednesday. “That would be more interesting.”

Aniston, who starred as Rachel in the hit television sitcom, said an elderly Friends reunion would answer the lasting questions like, “Is Joey Doughy Joey? Is Ross bald?”

The idea of an aging get-together has been forming in Aniston’s mind for some time. In November last year, she jokingly told British talk show host Graham Norton that it could be called Dead Friends. When Norton replied that the show could then consist of “a series of funerals,” Aniston said: “Then we’ll know that there’s no reunion to have.”

But even as she receives critical acclaim for her role in the film Cake, set to release on Friday, the star is grateful for her time on Friends.

“It was the greatest time in my life. And that was such a great group of people, and we love each other and it’s the gift that keeps on giving,” she said.

Earlier in January, co-star Matthew Perry (Chandler) said there were no serious talks about a reunion.

TIME Culture

4 Things I Learned from a Friends Marathon on Netflix

The cast of Friends. From left: David Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox, Matthew Perry, Lisa Kudrow and Matt Leblanc.
Getty Images The cast of Friends. From left: David Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox, Matthew Perry, Lisa Kudrow and Matt Leblanc. is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

In two days I watched 24 episodes of the '90s show and realized it taught me a lot about love and relationships

When I was 18, my parents put together an incredible graduation party for me. I was an emotional wreck, with tears streaming down my face as I moved throughout the building, hugging everyone I encountered. After I waded through the emotions, I noticed the small details my parents snuck in without my knowledge. The moment I saw Friends, my favorite television show, playing on a TV in the corner of the room — I felt a lump rise up in my throat.

As a kid, I was too little to understand Chandler’s sarcasm, Joey’s promiscuous behavior, or Phoebe’s complicated upbringing, but these factors didn’t stop me from picking from my assortment of Friends DVDs to watch with my babysitters every weekend. I was a huge fan. I knew every episode. My parents gave me a black baguetteFriends purse when I was 10, and then I set “I’ll Be There for You” by The Rembrandts as the ring-back tone on my first cell phone. Friends introduced me to love and friendship, and motivated me to be responsible once I grew up (Rachel Green’s spending habits and struggle to find a career served as lessons).

So the moment I found out Netflix released every season of Friends on January 1, I knew I had it in me to complete my favorite Friends season (the first) within a few days of the holiday break. Leaving Carroll, Iowa (my hometown with a population 1/160th of my current home in Manhattan), to intern for an online magazine (xoJane, hello!) and experience city life on my own for the first time, I have had plenty of time to indulge. So there I sat, curled up on a hazelnut-colored, squishy sofa, surrounded by Christmas lights, sipping on orange juice as the theme song bounced off the faded brick walls. In two days, I rewatched 24 episodes full of gut-wrenching laughter and classic quotes that I could still recite from memory:

“Ross, you got married when you were what – eight?”

“Dear, God! This parachute is a knapsack!”

“Oh, why not? Was I doing anything particularly . . . saucy?”

“Welcome to the real world! It sucks! You’re going to love it!”

“So he’s calling from Rome. I can call from Rome. All I have to do is go to Rome.”

Not only did rewatching these specific shows unexpectedly conjure up nostalgia, but I realized I grew up believing that every friendship I would have should somehow resemble the relationships portrayed on the show. (I would find my “Ross,” have a caretaker best friend like Monica, and a side-kick who could make me laugh constantly like Joey.)

Although some aspects of Friends are not true to my life living in the Midwest (pint-size apartments and spending every waking hour with the same group of people, etc.), the show taught me some valuable life lessons. Here’s what I learned from my marathon:

“I’ll Be There for You” is what friendship should be about.

Friends educated me on the importance of support systems and unconditional love. For example, when Ross faced a divorce at the beginning of the series, Joey and Chandler helped him settle into his new home and invited him out to clear his head. When I first started college, I was lucky enough to meet a group of girls who, despite their very different personalities, were there for each other. Whenever someone was upset, we came together immediately, for late-night baking or laying in a swarm of blankets watching movies.

Time and separation can be irrelevant in relationships.

When Rachel rushed into Central Perk after leaving her husband at the altar, Monica offered her a place to stay even though they hadn’t spoken in years. I met my best friend when I was three years old at dance practice, and to this day, she is one of the only people I know who can instantly calm me down if I’m upset.

We parted ways after high school — she attended a state school four hours away, while I decided to go to a private school close to home. She was always the Monica to my Rachel, and I know our friendship will always be something I hold dear to my heart. This television show made me realize that true, genuine friendship is possible — and you can meet those friends anywhere.

Choosing the right career path isn’t always clear and easy.

While Chandler struggled with deciding whether or not he wanted to move up in his job or start over with an internship is similar to what a lot of people face when they want to do something they love. My freshman year, I considered starting over at a state school instead of continuing at my relatively tiny college. After realizing I would be crazy to leave a school that held all of my new friends and offered more supportive environments with smaller class sizes, I made the decision to stay. Just like Chandler, I labeled my school as a “temporary” school that I would likely leave at the end of my freshman year. But also like Chandler, I realized that if I wanted the best for myself, I would stay where I was at and let myself grow.

You are the only one who knows what’s best for yourself.

Throughout season one of Friends, Monica looked for approval from her friends about her love life, cooking, and other issues; as a high-schooler, I also requested my friends’ permission for practically every decision in my life. (I think I’m going to try out for track! That’s okay, right? Is it weird if I join cheerleading? What do you think of him? I have this new friend, __; she’s nice, isn’t she?) Post high school, I realized that the only form of acceptance I should’ve searched for was whether or not I truly wanted this for myself. Monica and I shared the same insecurities, making sure everyone agreed with our decisions, but we both realized that we knew best. Your friends are there to help guide you — not decide what you will and will not do at the end of the day.

As episode 24 flashed on the screen, I realized that these fictional characters had taught me a lot. So sorry real-life friends, because I’ve got a date with six other friends that could last about nine more seasons for now.

Kiley Wellendorf is a student at Buena Vista University. This article originally appeared on

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email

TIME Research

What Your Online Persona Says About Who You Really Are

Getty Images

Does who you are online match who you are in real life? A new study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin shows that avatars, the little icons you can customize in video games and Internet forums, are pretty good depictions of the people who created them.

Since more and more people meet and develop friendships and relationships online, researchers at York University in Toronto looked into whether the impressions people get from avatars, like the kind you use on Nintendo Wii and World of Warcraft, are true reflections of the real-life players they’re interacting with. To measure this, the researchers had about 1oo people create an avatar representation of themselves, and then asked nearly 200 others to rate the avatars on openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

The results show that traits like being outgoing or anxious are pretty easy to assess, but other traits like conscientiousness and openness to new experiences are more difficult. People with agreeable traits were better able to get their personalities across through their avatars than narcissists.

Katrina FongExample of avatars used in the study

Specific physical traits of the online characters helped translate personalities more than others. Smiles, brown hair, sweaters and open eyes were more likely to come across as friendly and inviting, compared to avatars with neutral expressions or those that didn’t smile. Avatars with black hair, a hat, short hair or sunglasses were less likely to come across as friendly or desiring friendship.

Interestingly, the people in the study didn’t seem to apply usual gender stereotypes to the avatars, though avatars made by females were rated as more open and contentious over all. The researchers speculate that perhaps the digital realm has gender stereotypes that differ from the ones we more commonly experience offline.

“The findings from this study suggest that we can use virtual proxies such as avatars to accurately infer personality information about others,” the study authors conclude. “The impressions we make on others online may have an important impact on our real life, such as who becomes intrigued by the possibility of our friendship.”


Here’s Why Michael Jordan Is No Longer Friends with Charles Barkley

Michael Jordan;Charles Barkley
Sylvain Gaboury—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images (L-R) Basketball players Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley at Great Sports Legend Dinner on 26 Sept., 2000.

It has to do with their respective post-retirement careers

They were competitors, teammates, friends, and even Space Jam co-stars in the 1990s, but former NBA superstars Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley no longer see eye-to-eye. And Barkley revealed the reasons behind their fallout in a TV interview on Wednesday, USA Today reported.

“I think [Jordan] was offended by some things I said about him on television,” said Barkley, who is now an NBA analyst for TNT while Jordan is owner and chairman of the Charlotte Hornets.

“I said Michael wasn’t doing a good job — he’s doing a great job now, [the Hornets have] gotten better…but they weren’t doing good.”

Barkley went on to explain that Jordan didn’t understand that it isn’t possible to have double standards in the media for people you like or dislike. “Your job is to be an analyst. It’s not to protect your friends…no, he’s not feeling that,” he said.

[USA Today]

TIME Television

8 Actors Who Got Their Start on Friends

From Paul Rudd to Jon Favreau and Aisha Tyler

  • Jon Favreau

    NBC/Getty Images

    After Swingers but before he directed films like Elf, Chef and Iron Man, Jon Favreau played Monica’s super-rich husband who wants to become an Ultimate Fighting Champion.

  • Aisha Tyler

    NBC/Getty Images

    Aisha Tyler played Charlie, the paleontologist who dates both Joey and Ross. But neither proves smart enough for her: She prefers Nobel prize winners. After Friends, Tyler went on to star in 24 and now voices Lana Kane on Archer.

  • Paul Rudd

    NBC/Getty Images

    Sure, Monica and Chandler were a great couple, and the will-they-or-won’t-they drama of Ross and Rachel was endlessly entertaining. But the best pairing on the show was Phoebe and Mike, played by an utterly lovable Paul Rudd. Rudd has had perhaps the most successful career of the Friends vets: Anchorman premiered the same year that Friends wrapped, and the comedian quickly shot to superstardom with The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Role Models and I Love You, Man.

  • Cole Sprouse

    Friends Television Stills
    NBC/Getty Images

    You know that kid who played Ross’ son (that he barely ever saw) Ben? He went on to star as Cody in the Disney Channel’s The Suite Life of Zack & Cody.

  • Michael Rapaport

    NBC/Getty Images

    Before his roles in The 6th Day, Hitch and The Heat, Michael Rapaport was Pheobe’s cop boyfriend, who she had to break up with after he shot a bird.

  • Rebecca Romijn

    NBC/Getty Images

    Before she was Mystique in the X-Men movies, Rebeca Romijn baffled the Friends by dating Ross despite being super hot. (Though too be fair, the Rachel-Ross combination never really made sense either.) But Ross ultimately breaks up with the girl because her apartment is filthy and has rodents living in it.

  • Steve Zahn

    Friends - Season 2
    NBC/Getty Images

    Best known for roles in Sahara and Dallas Buyers Club, Zahn first played Phoebe’s gay ex-husband and ice dancer in an early episode of Friends.

  • Tate Donovan

    NBC/Getty Images

    In the 1990s, Tate Donovan was probably best known as Jennifer Anniston’s real-life boyfriend. They played an onscreen couple too: Rachel goes to great lengths, even donning her old cheerleading outfit from high school, to win the affection of Joshua. Donovan went on to stints on The O.C. as Jimmy Cooper, Damages as Tom Shayes and 24: Live Another Day as Mark Boudreau as well as roles in films like Good Night, and Good Luck and Argo.

TIME Parenting

Jennifer Aniston: People Call Me ‘Selfish’ For Not Being a Mom

"Life Of Crime" Premiere - Arrivals - 2013 Toronto International Film Festival
J. Countess—WireImage Actress Jennifer Aniston attends the premiere for "Life Of Crime" at Roy Thomson Hall on September 14, 2013 in Toronto, Canada. ( J. Countess--WireImage)

And correctly defines "feminism"

Even after years of the prying questions and condescending sympathy, it still bothers Jennifer Aniston when people ask her why she’s not a mom.

“I don’t like [the pressure] that people put on me, on women—that you’ve failed yourself as a female because you haven’t procreated,” she told Allure for their January issue. “I don’t think it’s fair. You may not have a child come out of your vagina, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t mothering—dogs, friends, friends’ children.”

The actress, who has gotten critical praise for her role in the upcoming film Cake, explained that she finds the incessant commentary about her maternal status hurtful. “This continually is said about me: that I was so career-driven and focused on myself; that I don’t want to be a mother, and how selfish that is…Even saying it gets me a little tight in my throat.”

Aniston also seemed well-prepared to answer the now-omnipresent questions about feminism–and why it’s such a complicated issue. “Because people overcomplicate it,” she said. “It’s simply believing in equality between men and women. Pretty basic.”


TIME Television

Friends Isn’t the Only Goodie Coming to Netflix This January

Cast of "Friends" on the "Tonight Show with Jay Leno"
Getty Images—Getty Images In this handout photo provided by NBC, the cast of "Friends", actors Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, Courteney Cox-Arquette, David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston sat down with Jay Leno for a special "Tonight Show," on the set of Central Perk

Mean Girls also headed to a laptop screen near you

Netflix will begin streaming Friends in all of its 236 episode glory starting Jan. 1 — but that’s not the only new treat to be coming to the service in the new year.

Netflix released a list of its biggest films and TV shows that will be coming to a laptop screen near you:

Jan. 1
101 Dalmatians
Bad Boys 2
Bruce Almighty
Cast Away
(season 3)
Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas
The French Connection

Fort Bliss
Mean Girls
Shall We Dance
To Be Takei
Wayne’s World 2

MORE: Netflix Wants New Original Content Every Three Weeks

Jan. 3
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
White Collar (season 5)

Jan. 8
Psych (season 8)

MORE: 26 Streaming Shows You Should Get Addicted to This Winter

Jan. 9
Z Nation (season 1)

Jan. 16
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Jan. 28

Read next: 8 Netflix Tricks You Just Can’t Live Without

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