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Bring the Noise? Not in America!

When it comes to television commercials, it all sounds like a bunch of noise to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  A bill passed by Congress in Dec. 2012 -- the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act (H.R. 1084/S. 2847) -- went into affect in late 2013 after a year long "grace period". The bill looks to limit commercials to the same "loudness" levels as the TV programming they accompany.

Under the bill the FCC was tasked with figuring out the finer details of what was considered too loud (compared to the programming) and to determine fines or other punishments to ensure compliance.  The bill not only applied to all broadcast television, but also to cable (unlike some other FCC regulations, which apply only to broadcast TV).  "Small cable operators" -- the roughly 1,130 operators nationwide (as of 2012) with less than 400,000 customers -- were allowed to apply for short-term financial hardship waivers, giving them more time to transition to quieter commercials (which often requires noise reduction equipment on the cable company's transmission side).

New FCC Chairman Thomas ("Tom") Edgar Wheeler has been working with the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) to add more clarity to the nascent regulations and to strengthen enforcement.  The group has come up with a guideline called A/85 Recommended Practice ("ATSC A/85 RP") 2013, which replaces the similarly named ATSC A/85 RP: 2011 (drafted two years prior).

TV box
The FCC is telling advertisors and cable TV companies to "turn down that racket." [Image Source: ppbh]

Soon, a second draft will go into effect on June 4, 2015.  Those new rules will enforce an even stricter standard, forcing advertisors to "cut out that racket".

On a more technical level, the FCC explains the change, writing [PDF]:

As described by the ATSC, the Successor RP applies an improved loudness measurement algorithm to conform to the International Telecommunication Union's (ITU) updated BS.1770 measurement algorithm, "BS.1770-3."  BS.1770-3 employs “gating” that will exclude very quiet or silent passages of a commercial when calculating the average loudness of that commercial.  Use of the new algorithm may reduce the volume of some commercials in certain circumstances.  The Successor RP also contains other minor changes that do not affect our rules.

The new rules will go into effect for all cable and broadcast TV on June 4, 2015, but the FCC encourages/allows companies affected to adopt the new regulations early if they want to.  In its notification the FCC also announced it rejected a request from small cable providers to extend the financial hardship waivers into a more long term, perhaps permanent exemption.

TV remote
The new rules apply to public broadcasters and cable firms of all sizes. [Image Source: VentureBeat]

The FCC encourages citizens to file complaints against TV programming that carried obnoxiously loud ads.  It writes:

The Commission will rely on consumer complaints to monitor industry compliance with the rules. You may report commercials that seem louder than the programming they accompany to the FCC at any time. This information will help identify possible problem areas and will assist the Commission in enforcement of the rules. Specifically, the Commission will use the detailed information from complaints to identify patterns or trends of noncompliance for a particular station, pay TV provider or commercial.

We recommend that you file your complaint electronically using the Commission’s online complaint form found at http://www.fcc.gov/complaints" rel="nofollow. To access the form, click on the Complaint Type button “Broadcast (TV and Radio), Cable, and Satellite Issues,” and then click on the Category button “Loud Commercials.” This will direct you to file the Form 2000G – Loud Commercial Complaint. Click on “Complete the form” to submit your complaint online. The Form 2000G has been created to specifically accommodate complaints about loud television commercials. To enable the Commission to evaluate your complaint, you should complete the form fully and accurately.

The FCC did not appear to indicate whether fines would shift with the new noise regulations.  Internet video (including streaming video), internet pages, and radio (both traditional and internet) are not subject to these regulations.

Sources: FCC [PDF], [complaints], via The Hill





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