TV commercials to pump down volume
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Television is about to get a bit quieter.
Beginning Thursday, television stations and cable providers are required to keep the volume of commercials at a level consistent with programming. No more blaring car ads or holiday shopping spots, unless providers want to incur the wrath of the Federal Communications Commission.
"Loud television commercials that make consumers run for the mute button or change the channel altogether will be a thing of the past," said U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., who sponsored the initial bill in the House.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., was a co-sponsor of the act. He told industry publication Broadcasting & Cable, "It's about time we turned down the volume on loud commercials that startle TV watchers into paying attention."
The Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, or CALM, was passed in the House and Senate more than a year ago, but providers were given a grace period to update their equipment. Even so, some smaller or cash-strapped stations were allowed to petition for extensions.
Television stations will be responsible for monitoring the volume of national network and syndicated spots, as well as local ads. Cable operators also are responsible for monitoring the volume of local and national commercials.
"We already had the majority of the equipment that was required to comply with the CALM Act and have been keeping our audio levels consistent," said Ray Carter, WPXI vice president and general manager.
"One of the requirements of the Act is to be able to log audio levels to prove compliance. As this requirement did not exist previously, most stations were required to purchase additional equipment to comply with that aspect of the rules."
The cost, which he estimated in the "thousands of dollars, but not in the tens of thousands of dollars," was "reasonable money spent for a reasonable effort." The upgrades allow stations to log audio levels, proving compliance.
Ms. Eshoo described "commercials blasting away at me at home" as a personal irritation, as well as one to her constituents. They are not alone; television stations have received complaints.
Over the years, "viewers have occasionally contacted us to express concern about commercial loudness, usually related to a specific commercial," said KDKA-TV general manager Chris Pike.
CALM gives stations and providers a bit of leeway in handling complaints. According to the new standards, one phone call or email isn't enough to warrant an investigation, although patterns of them will demand review.
Failure to meet these new modulation standards could result in fines.
The FCC is soliciting viewer auditing during the transition. To report loud commercials, call 1-888-225-5322 with information such as time and date of the commercial, description of the ad, plus station or network
Information also can be mailed to Federal Communications Commission, Consumer & Government Complaints Division, 445 12th Street SW, Washington, DC 20554.
As a video provider, Comcast must comply with the changes. It also has an advertising arm, Comcast Spotlight, that produces local advertising inserts.
The company, said spokesman Bob Grove, "has worked diligently over the past few years to ensure that all of the advertisements that are inserted into Comcast programming are compliant with industry standards.
"Comcast also has been coordinating with our programming partners for well over a year on the technical and operational methods to assure compliance with all other advertisements."
It's difficult to argue against CALM, although there has been some online grumbling about the government controlling yet another aspect of everyday life.
People who make commercials are applauding the change.
"As much as I'm into advertising and that's what I live for, I think the CALM Act is a viable, fair one," said Melanie Querry, president of Pittsburgh-based ad agency Beyond Spots & Dots.
"[But] I think some advertisers won't be happy with it because they believe louder commercials mean stronger viewership on TV."
Robert Schapiro, executive creative director at Pittsburgh's Brunner ad agency, said he's baffled as to why the volume was boosted in the first place.
"I tune out messages that scream at me. In fact, the absence of noise causes me to look up [at the screen]. ... I'm sorry that it took an act of Congress to [make the change] but I'm happy it passed."
Mr. Schapiro said the key to making successful commercials is to understand they are intrusions. The viewer should be rewarded with information about the client, presented in a fresh and engaging way, "so when the commercial is over, they like the company I'm representing and they remember them.
"I'd rather be there with a fresh, provocative message, not a loud one."
First Published December 9, 2012 12:00 am