LOS ANGELES — Shush, already. That's the message the Federal Communications Commission is sending with new rules that will force broadcast, cable and satellite companies to turn down the volume on blaring TV commercials.
On Tuesday, the FCC passed a set of regulations that will prevent commercials from being louder than the shows around them. It's all part of the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (or CALM) Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law last December. The rules go into effect a year from now. Companies that don't comply will face unspecified FCC action.
Thunderous television ads have annoyed viewers for years. The FCC says people have grumbled about the issue for at least a half-century. But since 2002 -- due in part to all those clangorous car commercials, earsplitting electronics ads and booming beer pitches -- loud advertisements have been one of the top complaints the FCC receives.
Complaints grew in recent years, as ads became even louder. In the days of analog TV, louder ads took up more space on the airwaves. So, broadcasters toned them down to avoid interfering with other channels. Since the conversion to digital-TV broadcasts two years ago, loud ads no longer take up more airwave space than quiet ones. The change transformed the commercial break into a noisy arms race.
"Nobody wanted to be the quiet guy in the set of commercials," said David Unsworth, senior vice president of satellite and technical operations at DG, a company that distributes ads to broadcasters.
In a recent analysis, DG found that some ads were 10 times as loud as the programs they interrupted.
"Everybody's been trying to push the envelope using (digital) compression to make their spots as loud as they can," Unsworth said.
A few years ago, an annoying ad got to the ears of Rep. Anna Eshoo, the Democratic congresswoman whose district in California's Silicon Valley is home to Facebook and Hewlett-Packard Co. While watching a sporting event with family members, Eshoo was jarred by a "horribly loud" commercial. Her brother-in-law suggested she do something about it. She did -- with what started as a simple, one-page legislative proposal.
The measure became one of the most popular bills she has ever sponsored.
"What I never dreamed of was what kind of chord it would strike with people," Eshoo said.
The FCC rules require TV distributors to set up equipment to monitor the average sound level of ads as they come in. If they're too loud, distributors must adjust the sound levels before they can be aired. It recommends practices set out in 2009 by the Advanced Television Systems Committee, a standard-setting body.
If compliance with the rules places a financial burden on a company, the FCC will give it up to December 2014 to comply. Those concessions have helped reduce opposition.
TV companies must lower volume on ads - USATODAY.com
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