06.09.2009 02:00 PM
Legislator Wants to Outlaw Loud TV Commercials

SAN FRANCISCO: A bill to outlaw loud commercials is getting a hearing on Capital Hill tomorrow. The House Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet will hear about H.R. 1084, the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act. IT would require the FCC “to prescribe a standard to preclude commercials from being broadcast at louder volumes than the program material they accompany.”

The CALM Act was introduced last summer but was never scheduled in committee. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) reintroduced it in the current Congress in February. It directs the FCC to regulate volume within a year of its enactment.

“Most Americans are not overjoyed to watch television commercials, but they are willing to tolerate them to sustain free over-the-air television. What annoys all of us is the sudden increase of volume when commercials are aired,” Eshoo’s Web site states. “This legislation will reduce the volume of commercials in order to bring them to same level as the programs they accompany.”

The three-part bill instructs the commission to enjoin commercials from being “excessively noisy or strident;” and from having modulation and loudness levels that “substantially” exceed the accompanying programming.

Of the bill’s 21 co-sponsors, only three are members of the subcommittee, though one is its chairman, Rick Boucher of Virginia.

The FCC already regulates broadcast audio in terms of dialogue normalization, but does not set a specific value. The major networks have set in-house values, but even so, it’s nearly impossible to ride herd on audio from the point of production on through a set of three-inch TV speakers.

Broadcasters themselves have no control over how levelers in cable set-top boxes are set, and they’re reluctant to mess with advertiser audio, what with the virtual collapse of the market and all. Most do actually request commercials mixed at certain levels, but it’s unlikely that a paying customer’s last-minute hot mix will be turned away. There’s also the effect of content shift, e.g., from a quiet, dramatic moment to a strident El Pollo Loco refrain.

Television Broadcast covered some of the challenges inherent in broadcast audio in “5.1 Takes More than Serendipity,” a look at NBC’s surround-sound broadcast of the 2008 Summer Olympics Games. In “Can You Hear Me Now?” CBS’s Bob Seidel points out some of the shortcomings of dialnorm.

Loudness levels are but one issue vexing broadcast audio; lip-sync is of greater concern. The digital TV standard separates audio from video, and the two frequently don’t arrive simultaneously to TV sets. Several trade and technical organizations are currently working on standards to eliminate lip-sync errors. – Deborah D. McAdams

(Image by Will Murphy

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Posted by: Deborah McAdams
Sat, 06-13-2009 08:03 PM Report Comment
I'm sitting in my barcalounger eating Cheese Doodles and watching the "NCIS" marathon on the USA channel. It's Saturday, and I'm taking the day off. I don't want to be distracted by having to make decisions or pay bills on the weekend. But now, as another commercial comes on, I'm thinking to myself, "enough already, there ought to be a law." I reach for the remote to turn down the volume. Is it just me, or is the commercial way louder than the regular programming? Yes and no. It seems broadcasters are allowed to air commercials at a volume equal to the peak volume of the program during which they play. For instance, there's a loud bomb blast in an episode of our favorite show. All the commercials during that program can reach that level. In other words, the commercial is constantly running at the loudest volume possible, while the actual show balances the explosions with dialogue at a natural level. The shows have a realistic pattern of volume that ranges from whispering to loud dialogue to loud blasts, while the commercials constantly blare at the peak volume. This issue has confounded TV viewers for years, and is now being investigated by the U.S. Congress, which this week heard from experts on the subject while considering HR 1084, the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act (CALM). The appropriately named CALM Act would require the FCC to restrict television commercial volume to the average sound level of the program that it airs on, as opposed to the program's peak volume. As I keep having to reach for the remote during each commercial interruption, I'm comforted by the fact that the day of the ear-blasting announcements for male enhancement products, AARP membership and bipolar medication is coming to an end. Soon there could be a law. http://www.paulsolomon.blogspot.com http://www.gravatar.com/avatar/9a6a9f6564402e40c7110026d58d254d.png
Posted by: Deborah McAdams
Tue, 06-09-2009 05:05 PM Report Comment
"Tolerate commercials?" This shows an obvious lack of understanding the impact advertising has on our economy. Suggesting controls like that on content make it just one step away from Rep. Eshoo adding an ammendment that would exempt political spots from the loudness limit. Besides, don't we have more pressing issues to attend to in Washington? Or do we have to tolerate more of this?
Posted by: Deborah McAdams
Tue, 06-09-2009 05:08 PM Report Comment
I am so for this general idea, but the wording in the legislation is too much! Come on everyone!!! Isn't it pretty obvious in the industry TV programs are edited with an ideal audio peak at -6 and commercials at 0?! Legislators have pages of text when all they should be writing is to get the FCC to establish a limit for commercials at -6! And I don't want to hear that there are different odds and ends cable and TV equipment that muddles with the audio throughout the chain. I'm sure the differences are negligible, especially when commercials and audio programs are consistently different. Everyone edits with non-linear software, both TV and commercials. And I'm sure all the software has accurate and equal settings at 0 and -6. So let's all demand the FCC to get us all on the same program!!!
Posted by: Anonymous
Tue, 12-31-2013 08:05 AM Report Comment
The advertisers are shooting themselves in the foot because if someone has to reach for the remote to lower the volume on the ads, they're also likely to mute the ads or lower the volume to the point that the ad's message won't be heard. Yes, I support the bill.

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