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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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Simpsons did it
By chagrinnin on 8/29/2014 1:48:25 PM , Rating: 2
Yeeeeaaaah,....I told them to shut the F up already. Then I muted the TV. This "new" law should work just about as well.

If I'm the loud commercial police then I should receive whatever the company is fined. Divide it up among everyone that complained about that particular commercial. A $10,000.00 dollar fine would put a quick stop to it. People would stay home and watch commercials for a living.

What we need are TVs that mute when we say "mute".




RE: Simpsons did it
By retrospooty on 8/29/2014 1:56:55 PM , Rating: 2
I like this... Not that I like the govt. policing anything, but it's irritating as hell when you have to keep changing the volume because it's all over the place. Especially when others are sleeping in the house.


RE: Simpsons did it
By Banana Bandit on 8/29/2014 2:41:27 PM , Rating: 2
There are some things the govt should keep their noses out of and other things they should definitely keep their thumbs on. Broadcast regulations, including regulating the volume of commercials, is definitely one of the latter since it falls directly under FCC jurisdiction.

What gets my ass is that they didn't nip that in the bud a long time ago when advertisers started the practice of blasting their spam at you at a levels 20% higher than programming volume levels. It is really annoying and they knew it.


RE: Simpsons did it
By ebakke on 8/29/14, Rating: -1
RE: Simpsons did it
By drlumen on 8/29/2014 5:08:43 PM , Rating: 2
Someone needs to do it. Might as well be the FCC.

However, I'll put it in the same category as the FTC "Do Not Call" list which has been almost a complete sham.


RE: Simpsons did it
By stm1185 on 8/29/2014 6:07:44 PM , Rating: 2
This seems more like an issue consumer tech can fix. My receiver has normalization. I think almost all PCs have normalization now as well (Sound - Device - Enhancements). Its not great in a lot of cases, but when I was watching the first few seasons of the Simpsons on FXX it worked miracles.


RE: Simpsons did it
By Solandri on 8/29/2014 6:55:37 PM , Rating: 4
The problem with normalization is actually the same problem with the old FCC commercial loudness guidelines. It measured the maximum amplitude of a commercial at each different frequency. Advertisers quickly figured out that by compressing the audio's dynamic range, they could pack a lot more audio energy into the commercial without exceeding the max loudness at any single frequency at any moment in time. (This is actually the same thing studios are doing with CDs in the so-called loudness war.)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loudness_war

The new guidelines and new normalization algorithms try to be a little smarter, giving greater weight to overall spread-spectrum energy. There's no straightforward way to do this though, so each manufacturer's implementation will be different. Which is probably why it's not as widespread as it could be - each model TV would handle the same situation differently. Not to mention it'll also alter if not mess up the audio for regular programming. If you want the program to sound distorted like a modern CD, then it probably won't bug you. But if you want to experience the full original dynamic range of the show's sound, you can't normalize it.


RE: Simpsons did it
By tng on 9/2/2014 1:29:46 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
compressing the audio's dynamic range, they could pack a lot more audio energy into the commercial without exceeding the max loudness at any single frequency
Funny how they worked to get around the rules, they will probably find some way to get around this.


RE: Simpsons did it
By Mr Perfect on 8/29/2014 6:36:54 PM , Rating: 3
That would be nice, but the TV manufacturers don't seem to give a damn.


RE: Simpsons did it
By Banana Bandit on 8/31/2014 6:39:29 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
... are you honestly telling me that commercial volume is something the federal government *should* be regulating?


Yes that is exactly what I am saying! Not sure how you missed it but I think I was pretty clear in my original post.

Commercials broadcast their messages over federally-controlled frequencies. Thy have to abide by the same FCC regulations as any other broadcast programmer.

If I set my volume to a comfortable listening level when I am watching preferred programming, who the hell gives advertisers the right to override that preference and blast their spam at me at levels I do NOT want?

Yes! Absolutely!

The FCC (and CRTC in Canada) has the regulatory power to ensure these commercial programmers are not violating the preferential way I want to watch my TV by overriding the volume levels I SET. Since I live in Canada, the CRTC will not do dick about it unless the U.S. sets the precedent does something about it first.

You say this is trivial to do for TV manufacturers. It most certainly is not. They have tried it many times in the past and dynamic volume range limiters simply do not work. And who wants to go out and spend more money on tv equipment to circumvent something that should not be happening in the first place?

The only thing left is to have our respective gooberments regulating these asshats into respecting my wishes as citizen that overpays their damn salaries.

Advertisers - leave my TV volume the hell alone!


RE: Simpsons did it
By RMichael on 8/29/2014 10:18:51 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
What gets my ass is that they didn't nip that in the bud a long time ago


The FCC has been after this for decades. More than 35 years ago the TV station I worked at ran all of their audio through two separate processors, each supposed to normalize levels. We still got complaints about the commercials, because they were so compressed that they sound louder, even when the peak levels were set correctly.


RE: Simpsons did it
By Bill S. on 9/2/2014 10:03:48 AM , Rating: 2
I cut the cable, a little over 4 years ago, when I bought my house....and to be quite honest, I don't miss it, or the obnoxious advertising that went with it, one little bit.

Strangely enough, some people who have known me during this whole time are STILL confused, when they come up and start talking about, "Hey, did you see that funny commercial for product so-and-so??", and I look at them, and remind them that NO, because I still don't have cable TV. Some folks are just flabbergasted by it!


RE: Simpsons did it
By FITCamaro on 9/2/2014 10:26:35 AM , Rating: 2
This is one of the few rules out of the FCC I agree with. But its also one of the things I don't miss as a result of not having cable/satellite. Netflix and Hulu Plus for me.


RE: Simpsons did it
By kattanna on 9/2/2014 12:47:54 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Hulu Plus


i just wish they would mix up their commercials. if we are stepping through multiple episodes of a show, we have to watch the exact same commercial over and over and over..

annoying


RE: Simpsons did it
By FITCamaro on 9/3/2014 7:57:56 AM , Rating: 2
True. It does get quite aggravating. Especially when its an ad you hate. Like that Southern Comfort one with the creepy guy in the hair salon. Man I hated that commercial. And on consoles you have no way to give feedback on ads like you do on PC.


RE: Simpsons did it
By DT_Reader on 9/3/2014 12:31:18 PM , Rating: 2
What we need is a regulation requiring them to somehow tag commercials so that our TVs can mute them automatically - and better yet, black out the screen as well. And cause our DVRs to not even record them in the first place, let alone skip them on playback.

Yes, I know commercials fund TV programming. But I also know that I'm paying my cable company to watch TV, and I know my cable company is paying the networks to carry their shows. The networks should either get funding from commercials, or from cable fees, but not both.


Huge image
By Sivar on 8/29/2014 1:34:06 PM , Rating: 1
What is with DailyTech and their hatred of mobile or bandwidth-limited readers?
The picture of a television is a gigantic PNG file, which is great for charts but not for photos, and worse, no one bothered to resize it for the article so the resolution is huge. 1.22MB!




RE: Huge image
By astralsolace on 8/29/2014 1:37:06 PM , Rating: 1
What century are you living in? Maybe you should stick to RSS feeds.


RE: Huge image
By Spuke on 8/29/2014 2:36:41 PM , Rating: 2
Dude it's only a 1MB file? Even dialup should be able to handle that.


RE: Huge image
By Sivar on 8/29/2014 6:53:15 PM , Rating: 5
I live in a century where those that post stories online are supposed to have a clue.

Web development 101:
1. Make the download as small as you can to speed loading of the website.

2. Use JPG for photos and PNG for charts, graphs, and line art. Quiz: Is the TV image a PHOTO or a CHART?

3. If you display an image as, say, 800x600 -- make that image 800x600, not several times the resolution that anyone actually sees.

It is clear that you aren't a web developer. There's nothing wrong with that, of course. I did enjoy that you combined a personal attack with comical ignorance of the matter at hand.
Stick to YouTube comments.


RE: Huge image
By Banana Bandit on 8/29/2014 2:42:46 PM , Rating: 2
One word for you:

Broadband!


RE: Huge image
By bug77 on 8/29/2014 3:50:51 PM , Rating: 2
I don't think he was complaining about lack of broadband, but about the image making it easier to hit your data cap.


RE: Huge image
By Sivar on 8/29/2014 6:56:54 PM , Rating: 2
Exactly.
Large PNG images also load noticeably more slowly regardless of data cap, though that's a more minor issue.


RE: Huge image
By tlbj6142 on 8/29/2014 3:54:18 PM , Rating: 1
DT isn't mobile friendly period. When they create mobile friendly interface, you can complain.


RE: Huge image
By japlha on 8/29/2014 6:09:14 PM , Rating: 1
Just use the lynx browser and all your image problems are solved!


Too late
By dgingerich on 8/29/2014 4:48:00 PM , Rating: 3
It's too late now. A great many people have switched to only watching things online, and more keep joining all the time. The old Broadcast TV method is dying, partly because of obnoxious commercials.

I remember back when I still watched regular TV, I tried watching Futurama on Comedy Central, and I had it turned up so I could barely hear the show, but my downstairs neighbor called the leasing office for a noise complaint because the commercials were so loud. There was no way for me to turn it up enough to hear the show and not have it too loud on the commercials. I quit watching Comedy Central specifically because of that.

Of course, that was about 2007 or so. I switched over to Hulu and Amazon Prime full time back in 2011, turned off my cable at the beginning of 2012, when I found I could get Doctor Who from Amazon Prime, the last show I watched on cable TV, and haven't looked back. It costs me SO much less, I can watch things on my own schedule, and I see fewer commercials. The cable TV providers can screw off.




RE: Too late
By inperfectdarkness on 9/1/2014 2:20:35 AM , Rating: 2
Precisely. I too have migrated to online content streaming--mostly netflix. The irony of this is that the lack of self-regulation on the part of the cable companies/tv stations has driven consumers AWAY from their product in search of less annoying alternatives. So in the end, there will be less people watching the ads & the revenue that the ads generate will decline. The likely outcome of that is that there will be a push for even MORE ads, just so that the existing cable/tv stations can keep up their revenue. More consumers will migrate away--and it will continue.

History has many lessons for corporations to glean, if only they will take the time to learn from them. This same type of consumer-hatred-feedback bit the RIAA in the butt--and has been biting the MPAA in the same fashion. iTunes, Netflix & Steam (and their competing products) are the way of the future. You cannot stand in the way of progress forever--and a zealous adherence to bygone profit models will bankrupt your company. Look at RIM.

P.S.
8 minutes of ads for a 30 minute TV show may not seem like that much--but it is. That's just less than 1/3rd of actual programming--is being spent on spam. If you watch an entire season of a sitcom (let's say 20 episodes), that's 160 minutes of commercial garbage you aren't watching--longer than a 2.5 hour movie. Is it any wonder why I prefer netflix over everything else?


not enough
By chromal on 8/30/2014 10:05:51 AM , Rating: 3
US Congress needs to legislate this issue for Internet streaming video commercial breaks as well. I'm looking directly at you, Comedy Central, your ads are obnoxious and overly loud.




RE: not enough
By StevoLincolnite on 8/30/2014 6:01:27 PM , Rating: 2
Adblock my friend, Adblock. :)

Advertising will not change until you force it's hand.


By CharonPDX on 8/29/2014 3:39:07 PM , Rating: 2
Was watching a TV show on the network's website recently, and each commercial break was 3-4 commercials. Inevitably, at least one commercial each break was significantly louder than the show (and the preceding commercials,) causing me to mute.

Ironically, repeatedly throughout the show, the network played one of their own commercials for another show of theirs as the last commercial before returning to the main show.

I never heard that commercial. Every single time it aired, I had it muted. And I *ONLY* bothered to mute when a "super loud" commercial came on. Sometimes the super loud would be the last commercial, sometimes the first. But there was almost always a loud one.

Guess what, loud advertiser - not only do I not hear your message (because I mute it within the first 5 seconds,) but you cause a worse image of your brand in the process. (I'm looking at you, Chevrolet.)




I don't watch any commercials
By masamasa on 8/29/2014 6:40:17 PM , Rating: 2
Due to the fact they are so loud and irritating. Really effective advertising.




By shaidorsai on 9/6/2014 9:38:10 AM , Rating: 2
and applaud the effort to stop the ridiculous practice of ad cramming...The TV owner should be the only person allowed to change the settings of the device, not the content provider.

Now if they would just turn their attention to the even more annoying radio ad cramming...nothing like some jerk advertiser (Im talking to you Bob Valentie auto-mall in eastern CT!) that thinks it's ok to blast obnoxious phone ringing at the beginning of every radio ad...




"So, I think the same thing of the music industry. They can't say that they're losing money, you know what I'm saying. They just probably don't have the same surplus that they had." -- Wu-Tang Clan founder RZA














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