Government Ban on Louder TV Ads Finally Takes Effect

Collective 'Shhh!' Descends on TV Marketers and Agencies

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After years of complaining that TV commercials are too loud, viewers may have something to shout about.

Ads can no longer be louder than the programs they interrupt, according to Federal Communications Commission rules taking effect today, collectively called the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, also known as CALM. The rules were adopted in December 2011, but TV networks, ad production houses and others received a year-long grace period to get their systems in compliance.

And so, a collective "Shhh!" falls upon the airwaves. Or does it? The problem isn't always that the ads are "too" loud. It's that they routinely stick throughout to the maximum sound levels allowed for TV broadcast, so they seem loud when they air next to program segments with a wider audio palette, including softer sounds. Now, at least, commercials will be required to have "the same average volume as the programs they accompany," according to the FCC.

Context, however, will continue to affect viewers' perceptions. Does the ad roll just after an emotional but subdued scene on NBC's "Parenthood"? Then the ad may seem to blare. But if the commercial runs just after a shootout on CBS's "NCIS" or a congratulatory tableau on NBC's "The Voice," it may not sound so much different in volume than the show itself.

What this all means, going forward, is that TV viewers shouldn't experience what had become a common -- and very noisy -- source of consternation: that shocking rise in sound level when the first ad comes on after the action stops on a favorite show. Now if only Congress could make a law about how many commercials get stuffed into those now-muted ad interruptions.

Consumers can flag apparent violations using the "Loud Commercial Complaint" form on the FCC's website.

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