Wednesday, January 18, 2012

FCC Rules Should Lower Loud TV Ads (January 6, 2012)

Do you sometimes find yourself fiddling with your remote to adjust the volume when your favorite television program breaks for blaring, irritating commercials? Or do you tune the ads out and head for the bathroom or go looking for sweet or salty snacks?
Thanks to new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations, TV advertisers may soon ask the same question as that omnipresent Verizon commercial did a few years back: “Can you hear me now?”
The volume emanating from televisions nationwide should be a little quieter by next Christmas when rules designed to lower the volume of TV commercials are expected to take effect, in an effort to crackdown on what for years has been a nuisance to viewers, as the FCC unanimously approved guidelines that require cable operators and TV stations to quiet louder-than-normal ads.
And the consensus for the majority of TV viewers, especially late and overnight, must certainly be in not-so-hushed tones it’s about time!
The volume of a typical television program, according to audio experts, is about 70 decibels, which is louder than standard conversations. However, as many couch potatoes and occasional viewers have come to realize, the decibels for some TV commercials are about 30 percent higher.
The chairman of the FCC noted that his agency had received more than 6,000 complaints or inquiries about loud commercials since 2008, though, he added, they have since diminished. He also pointed out that the goal is not to impose government interference on private business, but to avoid the abrupt, frustrating increase in the volume during commercial breaks that seems to have risen in the last decade.   
Before last December 13, the FCC could not, by law, regulate the volume of programs or commercials. As a result, broadcasters and program producers had considerable latitude to vary the decibels of broadcast material. Accordingly, it seems TV advertisers prefer loud, louder and loudest while annoying pitchmen hawk a variety of products, such as OxyClean and other telebrands.
In December, the FCC took a major step toward eliminating one of the most persistent complaints of the television age loud commercials. The Commission adopted rules that implement the 2010 Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act, in which Congress gave it unprecedented authority to address the problem of excessive commercial loudness.
Surprisingly, there was little backlash from programmers or advertisers since the federal agency softened the blow by giving them a year to make the requisite decibel adjustments.
The rules adopted require that commercials cannot be louder than the average volume of the programs they accompany. More specific rules also establish simple, practical ways for stations and MVPDs (multichannel video programming distributors, such as satellite companies and cable operators) to demonstrate conformity with the rules. If they fail to give viewers relief from noisy commercials they will be subject to fines.
While the federal agency will perform spot checks to insure regulations are obeyed, it hopes viewers will offer input if they see any violations of the new rules.
The CALM legislation, which passed overwhelmingly two years ago in Congress, will not become effective until December 13, 2012 to give stations and MVPDs sufficient time to be in full compliance. It also gives programmers and networks ample time to provide distributors with guidelines so that the commercials that accompany their programming fully comply with these rules.
A few years ago, I went for a free audio test and discovered I have about a ten percent hearing loss in one ear. I suspected that because I occasionally don’t hear every word in conversations or when I’m watching a television program when characters talk softly. The latter is easy to remedy by turning up the volume a few notches. However, even with my hearing problem, when there’s a break and commercials and promos are telecast, more often than not, I must reduce the volume for ads that are several decibels louder than the program. I find it especially annoying when I’m away from the TV doing something else and must scramble back to adjust the sound.
As far as a hearing aid, I’ve shied away from getting one, due mostly to the cost, not vanity. But I dread the day when I can see someone’s lips moving and can barely detect if they’re asking, “Can you hear me now?” and I can’t.