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Squeeze play in Pittsburgh?

When CBS-owned KDKA-TV Pittsburgh got called for delay of game while broadcasting a Steelers game last month, it exposed what appears to be a much wider practice.

KDKA-TV and CBS last week acknowledged that the station compressed the part of the Oct. 14 broadcast of the Steelers-Kansas City Chiefs game to squeeze in extra commercial time. CBS said it was unauthorized and the practice had stopped.

But both station and network are declining comment on allegations that KDKA-TV and other CBS-owned stations have been regularly compressing prime time programming to fit in more spots. Reliable sources say that group management has given at least tacit approval to the practice for two years.

TV execs say it would be naïve to believe that stations—both inside and outside the CBS group—are not taking advantage of the opportunity to add commercial spots.

The compression in the game—during halftime and into the third quarter—was brought to light by fans watching the TV broadcast while listening to the radio broadcast on Clear Channel's WDVE-FM.

CBS affiliates were upset following the discovery that an owned station could alter network programming when an affiliated one would be severely chastised by the network for such actions. Ray Deaver, general manager at KWTX-TV Waco, Texas, and head of the CBS affiliate board, said he plans to raise the issue with the network.

And, TV executives say, the revelation may also draw the ire of advertisers whose spots have been speeded up—if only minutely and undetectably—and put into more-crowded ad clusters.

Competitors in the Pittsburgh market say they have monitored KDKA-TV in prime time and concluded that the station has used compression to gain a competitive edge of two to four spots during prime time on several nights. Each such spot could bring in $2,000 to $5,000. A spot in a Steelers broadcast goes for as much as $8,000.

John Howell, general manager of Cox-owned rival WPXI(TV), says he and other station executives in the Cox group have compared the logs of their CBS affiliates with KDKA-TV's and found the latter doing more spots.

Former CBS employees said other CBS-owned stations have used compression to squeeze in more spots, usually in highly rated programs, but added that it is not done all the time or at all group stations.

Executives in other groups, who say they complained to CBS, say they were told that KDKA-TV was chastised for its use of the compression technology.