'Calm Act' regulating TV commercial volume levels now in effect

By on December 13, 2012, 11:03 AM

A nuisance that has bothered television viewers for years is now a thing of the past. The Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, or CALM, goes into effect today. The federal law promises to regulate the volume of television commercials which, as most of us know, can often times be much louder than the programming they interrupt.

Under CALM, commercial advertisements aren’t allowed to be any louder than the programming they accompany. One would assume that advertisers thought it was a good idea to make their commercials louder in order to get your attention but if my experiences are any indication, all it does it make me mute the volume or change the channel completely.

The law came to life following years of complaints from consumers. It was actually passed into law more than a year ago but the FCC gave advertisers a lengthy grace period in order to comply.

As the LA Times points out, it may seem easy enough for broadcasters to adjust commercial volume but that wasn’t the case. The normal listening volume for a television show is around 70 decibels although that can vary slightly. Previous audio equipment measured volts which just looked for technical indications of loudness, according to Thomas Lund from TC Electronics.

This wasn’t adequate to detect the types of volume fluctuations that were noticeable (and annoying) to the human ear. Regulation required equipment upgrades for cable and satellite television providers as well as general advances in technology.

If you are still hearing extremely loud commercials, the FCC urges you to report the commercial on their website or by calling 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-225-5322).




User Comments: 29

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Guest said:

I'm saving the number to my phone now. That's right tv ads... after years and years of annoying me repeatedly, waking my ass up, and even scaring my dog I finally have a chance at revenge. I'll be watching quite a bit of tv during the week. We can take shifts on national channels too if anyone wants :D

1 person liked this |
Staff
Per Hansson Per Hansson, TS Server Guru, said:

Great, actually a law that helps consumers for once!

I hope they adopt this in Sweden aswell!

Guest said:

They should really make a commercial for this phone number too (if one doesn't already exist). ;) Not alot of people will even know about it, let alone remember it.

Tygerstrike said:

With DVR and a mute button, most ppl dont even pay attention to comercials anymore. Unless they are the SuperBowl comercials. Then everyone watches those. Personally I will either mute my TV or switch over to the Xbox during a comercial. I work in retail so Im pretty much unfazed by the comercials of today. They are too loud with too much fine print. Quick blurbs of information is about all they are anymore. It used to be fun to see what new comercial would come out, especially at christmas. Im sure a few still remember the old Norelco xmas comercial. Untill we see a change in HOW comercials are presented, most ppl will continue to ignore them.

Guest said:

Great,

Now can we get a law like that for video streaming ads on the internet?

Guest said:

I've read that it actually isn't that commercials are broadcast so much louder, but that TV shows keep their volumes well under the max limit in order to "volume spike" at significant moments(car chase, shoot out, etc..) to make them seem more intense. Commercials simply ran at the max limit with no deviation.

Seems a bit silly to make a law giving that the above is the case. Why not just force stations to do away with volume spiking for effect. It would make commercials seem much more normal and the entire programming could be adjusted once; as opposed to super low volume conversation, insanely high music moment in TV, then super lower volume moment leading to super high (seeming) commercial.

Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Great,

Now can we get a law like that for video streaming ads on the internet?

Seconded! Some of those streaming add volume fluctuations can be downright maddening!

9Nails, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Good points Guest.

My TV does have a bit of sound compression built-in to it, not a whole lot tho. It will try to flatten the peaks and valleys in audio for a more consistent sound. Transitioning from a talk-show to a commercial with music and an announcer will even still has me reaching for the remote to give the volume two or three clicks down. I'm no audio engineer, but I think the problem is that you cannot predict the audio levels; if the compression was too heavy a jet might fly by at normal voice levels, or a whisper would sound like regular conversation.

I had once called the cable company to see if there was anything that they could do on their end, and since only the tv programing was regulated there was nothing they could do. I suppose this gives them some control and power now.

Guest said:

Yes! Also why does the video compression look better in the ads than it does for the actual content you intend to watch??

Guest said:

Could always do away with adverts all together.

I don't like them, I don't want to look at them and they just waste my time. I've probably spent about 400+ hours watching adverts in the course of my entire life.

Scshadow said:

Could always do away with adverts all together.

I don't like them, I don't want to look at them and they just waste my time. I've probably spent about 400+ hours watching adverts in the course of my entire life.

You're trolling right? Nobody is that... ummm... "unaware".

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I can honestly say advertising has never sold anything to me.

Benny26 Benny26, TechSpot Paladin, said:

It would be nice if the UK adopted something like this also. I've had my fair share of diving for the remote at the start of an ad break to avoid the intense volume.

3DCGMODELER 3DCGMODELER said:

I sold my tv because I was sick of the ads and the loudness of them... one commercial blew me out of my chair pratically... thats it I unplugged and and 2 yrs later sold it..

I netflix now..

cmbjive said:

When I had TV I just fast forwarded through commercials.

Now I only have to put with ads on Hulu Plus.

This is a bunch of busybodism by the government. When will everyone learn that the government can't solve all of their problems...

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

The trouble is, with the new digital sound technology at their disposal, TV stations can really crank up the volume without running afoul of the FCC, since DTV supports a much wider dynamic range than analog broadcast.

Even way back when, the commercials would always blast you out of, "your silent reverie". It wasn't accomplished by turning up the volume. It was illegal to modulate the signal past 100%. So...., they slapped a compressor on the sound when the commercials were on, which placed all the sound bandwidth at 100% modulation, but no more...

The compressor "limits" the signal on the high volume side, and brings up all the soft sounds to near the upper level.

TJGeezer said:

I've read that it actually isn't that commercials are broadcast so much louder, but that TV shows keep their volumes well under the max limit in order to "volume spike" at significant moments(car chase, shoot out, etc..) to make them seem more intense. Commercials simply ran at the max limit with no deviation.

I've also read that it's not the volume so much as the sound shaping that makes the commercials seem so intrusive and, therefore, loud. So it's not enough to regulate the volume alone, if the goal is to make commercials easier to live with.

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

I've also read that it's not the volume so much as the sound shaping that makes the commercials seem so intrusive and, therefore, loud....[ ]...
Here you should be thinking, "big EQ push" in the midrange. Human hearing is most sensitive in the vocal ranges, say from maybe 500Hz to 2000Hz. So, if you put a "hump" centered @ about 1000Hz on the equalizer, the vocals will " cut through the mix".

"Sound shaping" is a term often associated with, (but not limited to), audio equalizers, as the sliders form rough "shapes" on the face of the device.

If you aren't already familiar with these terms, investigate "Fletcher-Munson loudness curves", "audio equalization", "dynamic range", and "audio compression".

Understanding how those 4 factors operate in concert, (pardon the pun), will give you the "big picture" as to what is going on with respect to perceived loudness.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

I've also read that it's not the volume so much as the sound shaping that makes the commercials seem so intrusive and, therefore, loud. So it's not enough to regulate the volume alone, if the goal is to make commercials easier to live with.
I'm trying to wrap my head around, how someone could shape a sound wave differently and yet make sure it still sounds the same. You see one of the properties of using a higher bit rate for digital recording, is to capture as many points along the analog sound wave as possible. This allows for recreating the analog sound wave as closely as possible. Changing the shape of the sound wave any at all, would therefor change the sound output.

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

I'm trying to wrap my head around, how someone could shape a sound wave differently and yet make sure it still sounds the same. .
You're of course, joking....?

If not, then, (notice the computer logic statement (?), the individual "sounds" are not "shaped", but the sonic spectrum is. In other words, levels are increased or decreased at individual frequency ranges. This causes certain bands of sounds to proceed toward you, or recede from you, in the overall "sound stage", or "sound front", or "stereo image". Whichever term enables the best access to the concept for you. Another term might be, "sound perspective". Which "objects" (sounds), are in the foreground, and which "objects" (sounds), are in the background.

The object of DSP, is A/D to D/A conversion. So, unless you have a USB port in your head, (or other places), you're an analog link in the signal chain, as were the musicians and instruments which created the music in the first place. (Although granted, "instruments" could involve pure digital methods only).

The piano has a range of 8 octaves, but the notes in the center of the keyboard and toward the right for an octave or so, are the ones to which the human ear is the most sensitive. You know, "middle C".

Human vocal range is basically limited to , (roughly) from C2 to C6 and that's with the very best, trained singers, and across several classifications.

Music is a fairly complex "science" also. Not anywhere as deep as computers, but deep nonetheless.

Wiki page on "middle C": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C_(musical_note)

And Wiki page on full piano keyboard notes, octaves, and frequencies: [link]

If you would check out the terms I outlined in post 20, I'm sure they would clarify the issue a bit further.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

You're of course, joking....?

If not, then, (notice the computer logic statement (?), the individual "sounds" are not "shaped", but the sonic spectrum is. In other words, levels are increased or decreased at individual frequency ranges.

Well the term was sound shaping and spectrum equalization never came to mind, until after both of our comments were made. If the original article did in fact label the effect as "sound shaping", I think it was a bad choice of words.

1 person liked this | captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

If the original article did in fact label the effect as "sound shaping", I think it was a bad choice of words.
"Sound shaping" is granted, idiomatic expression. And also a term that would likely be more familiar to someone involved in sound reproduction at the production or mixing level.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

"Sound shaping" is granted, idiomatic expression. And also a term that would likely be more familiar to someone involved in sound reproduction at the production or mixing level.
Which is likely why it was confusing to me as I'm not that person.

And getting back on topic which is the fact that this (sound shaping) technique is likely used to elevate the sound output of commercials. So therefor sound shaping(aka: adjusting the amplitude of a range of sound frequencies) should be regulated against, to prevent such output elevations. If you ask me, its speech that should be the deciding factor on how loud any broadcast should be.

Guest said:

I cut cable TV off about a year ago and am saving myself $80 monthly. Of course, I spent $100 for a Roku box, $75 for a Mohu Leaf antenna and some minor monthly charges like $8 for Netflix (this is the best deal in the US for any entertainment, period). I do love Netflix.

Commercials in the local live air broadcasts coming from my Mohu antenna were indeed peaking much louder than the hosted programs but have suddenly come way down to the same levels as their sponsored programs thanks to the CALM act. However, I have noticed that many commercials will spike the volume really high for one second right at the beginning.

They better stop this one second volume spiking game real soon or I will be like an old grandma on my cell phone calling this FCC snitch number every day.

1-888-TELL-FCC, 1-888-225-5322.

Guest said:

And here's the FCC online form to complain about loud commercials:

[link]

1 person liked this | treetops treetops said:

If they purposely made them loud it cannot be that hard to purposely make them quiet again. Anyways good news . Now they need to ban commercials within shows advertising other shows.

So they made the shows quieter for the crash sounds n such to be higher, well just make the commercials quieter, set them to the uncrash scene decibel level.

treetops treetops said:

Great,

Now can we get a law like that for video streaming ads on the internet?

In windows 7 go to control panel, hardware and sound, change system sounds, playback tab, right click your sound device like speakers, click properties, click enhancements tab and then check the loudness equalization box! There is also a option in vlc player and likely other media players like this. I noticed a HUGE difference when playing audio on vlc player after changing that feature and the vlc feature. I bet it works great for browsing as well.

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

If they purposely made them loud it cannot be that hard to purposely make them quiet again. Anyways good news . Now they need to ban commercials within shows advertising other shows.

So they made the shows quieter for the crash sounds n such to be higher, well just make the commercials quieter, set them to the uncrash scene decibel level.

You know, listening to loud TV commercials isn't half as annoying as listening to people rail about how they should regulate this, that, and the other thing.

The level at which righteous indignation, paranoid delusions of self entitlement, and requests for yet more legislation present on something as inane as the sound levels of TV commercials, which after all, can be eliminated by simply pushing a mute button, is unnerving.

I'm sure at some point you could get enough hysterically indignant malcontents to ram some new pointless crap law through Congress prohibiting companies hawking their wares.

With that said, I really take sadistic pleasure, in either changing the channel, or muting my TV, to suppress the annoyance that horse faced hag Flo from Progressive generates. It's fun to hit the mute button, and watch her lips move....silently. And guess what else Flo baby, I murmur to myself, "all my policies are with Geico, and their stupid lizard is way more appealing than you".

None of this nonsense is new business. My grand parents used to b**** about the volume of TV commercials. And that was in the year 1 BCTV (before color TV). And guess what, you actually had to get up, and walk across the room, to turn the TV down. Imagine the tales of woe and hardship we'd have to endure, if that was the case today.

Really, just think of actually having to get up off your a**, walk across the room, and then have to turn an analog knob, just to reduce the volume of your TV. You'd likely expect to have your own reality show as documentation of your travails if that were the case.

I also think that at some point in your quest to muzzle advertisers, they'll smarten up, realize they're pissing their money up a wall solely supporting broadcast TV, and pull the funding.

Since I'm absolutely certain you won't be picking up the tab on my cable bill should that occur, please consider hitting your mute button, and the one on your TV also.

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