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Survey finds viewers annoyed by loud commercials

A vast majority of U.S. TV viewers are so annoyed by loud TV commercials that they reduce or mute the volume, or change the channel altogether, according to a recent national survey.

The telephone survey of 1000 TV viewers, conducted for Harris by Wakefield Research, showed that 89 percent are bothered by the often dramatic variation between regular TV programming and advertising volumes. Eighty percent of those who are bothered by the loudness variations take matters into their own hands by turning the volume down (41 percent), completely muting the volume (22 percent) or changing the channel altogether (17 percent).

The survey respondents also cautioned advertisers that the louder commercials may be backfiring by causing them to tune out the advertisements rather than attracting viewers to them. The survey found:

• 61 percent said the loudness difference negatively impacted their perception of the product or their ad-viewing habits.

• 38 percent reported they are less likely to pay attention or consider the product.

• 23 percent of those surveyed are changing the channel to another program.

• Only 5 percent reported the louder volume makes them more likely to pay attention to an ad and consider the product.

The U.S. Congress is considering legislation requiring broadcasters to keep commercials' audio levels more in line with their related programming. However, respondents were split over the prospects of the government resolving the perceived problem. Thirty-three percent said they believed legislation should be passed to solve the problem, while 29 percent said legislation is not needed.

The Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) recently developed a recommended practice for TV broadcasters to address the loudness issue. The recommended practice outlines the target dialog level at -24dB on a -1dB to -31dB decibel scale with -1 the loudness of the programming they accompany, thus preventing startling variations of audio when commercials come on. Several TV networks already have begun implementing this practice.

The U.S. Congress, responding in part to the thousands of viewer complaints received each year, is considering legislation known as the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act, which is intended to reduce the allowable volume spread between programs and advertisements. The proposed law — H.R. 1084 in the House and S. 2847 in the Senate — requires broadcasters to follow the ATSC's recommended practice and is expected to be approved by both chambers this month.