Congress Approves Act to Limit Volume in Commercials

Nationwide Standards Will Likely Be Good for Advertising

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- TV viewers who aren't already skipping ads with DVRs may soon find they are no longer compelled to change the channel or hit mute every time a loud ad comes on the air. And that will make all commercials seem just a little less annoying.

Congress on Thursday approved legislation that regulates the volume at which commercials can air. The Commercial Advertising Loudness Mitigation Act, which was introduced by California Rep. Anna G. Eshoo in June 2008, requires the Federal Communications Commission to "prescribe a standard to preclude commercials from being broadcast at louder volumes than the program they accompany." The bill will next go to President Obama.

Complaints about the sometimes-jarring difference of volume between commercials and programming is nothing new -- the FCC has been receiving complaints for years -- but the implementation of the CALM Act could ultimately benefit advertising. "From the agency point of view, we understand that for advertising to be effective, it has to be engaging and not annoying. This volume issue was undermining the effectiveness of the ads," said Dick O' Brien, executive VP and director-government relations at the American Association of Advertising Agencies. "This act will make the whole viewing experience much more enjoyable for the public, and advertising can be more effective."

Dan Jaffe, executive VP-government relations at the Association of National Advertisers, echoed similar sentiments: "We strongly support the act; I think the whole ad community does. The vast majority of advertisers are not in the business of annoying consumers. They just want to communicate." He added that the passing of the CALM Act has generally been a cooperative process. "Often the picture is that there is a lot of battling in legislation. Here an issue has been raised that many people agreed on, and we have succeeded in finding a resolution."

Under the CALM Act, the FCC must require advertisers to adopt within one year new technology and practices that prevent overly loud ads. The Advanced Television Systems Committee, a consortium of broadcasters, in April 2007 created a committee -- which included representatives from NBC, ABC, CBS and cable networks -- to develop practices that equalize the volume between programs and commercials.

Jim Starzynski, director-advanced engineering and principal audio engineer at NBC Universal, and also chairman of ATSC's audio loudness group said, "Our goal was to develop recommended practices for establishing and maintaining audio loudness for digital television. That practice has been worked into CALM Act, and it's the implementation that the act recommends."

Mr. O' Brien said he does not foresee major setbacks implementing the equalization of volume industry-wide. "Broadcasters who are not already using this technology are going to have to adapt to it. But it's not a big deal."

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