Deborah McAdams is the Executive Editor of TV Technology.
Federal regulators have until mid-December to issue rules directing broadcasters and cable operators to control the volume on TV sets across the country because lawmakers cannot be bothered to press "mute." Thus, they passed the Commercial Advertising Loudness Mitigation Act, perhaps stepping on the First Amendment in the process of codifying abject sloth. I have nothing against sloth per se. In fact, I wish I were exercising it in Antigua right now. But my personal sloth would not impel an industry to spend millions of dollars installing yet another box in their already box-centric workflows so that I don't have to use my thumb. Because I am not Caesar, nor am I Congress, she stated redundantly.
The CALM Act says a commercial can't be logarithmically louder than the preceding TV scene, even if we're talking Mattress Warehouse Dude following Haley Joel Osmont's whispered confession about seeing dead people. Just to be clear, the law applies to "loudness" and not "volume," because passing the CAVM Act sounds too much like outlawing "chasms" with a speech impediment. (Do I work when I should be sleeping? Why, yes. Yes I do.)
Without rolling out decibels, let's say "volume" refers to the audio intensity range of a human voice, and "loudness," to indoor and outdoor voice. Congress legislated indoor voice for television.
This comes just as TV could be delivered with 5.1 surround sound and show all those earbudded whippersnappers what real audio sounds like, Sonny. (Shakes her cane in the air.) You don't see Congress stepping on sound in theaters. Because dynamic range is part of the experience, capisce? Not so with TV. The medium may as well go monaural.
All cynicism aside, the CALM Act does represent one important milestone in American history: The last time legislators could agree on anything. Too bad it had to be something so utterly nonsensical.
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