Senate Passes Bill Banning Loud Commercials

Everyone hates loud commercials, which is why Senate Republicans and Democracts were able to agree on something and Wednesday unanimously passed a bill banning them. The bill would require commercials to be broadcast at the same sound level as the programs they’re interrupting.

As the commercials and shows come from a range of sources, from syndicated national programs to local car dealerships, getting them on the same loudness standard will be a challenge and TV stations may have to get new equipment.

The House has already passed a similar bill. The two bills will be reconciled after Congress reconvenes.

Senate votes to turn down volume on TV commercials [AP]

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  1. ktetch says:

    Good. Now can we do something about stuff that matter?

    Oh no, wait, that would go against the lobbyists…

    THAT’s why I joined the US Pirate Party (see an advert at subliminal volume ;-)

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Why put a halt to truly bipartisan issues just because the partisan ones are still in debate.

      If we can get some obvious and easily-done progress through while we maintain to work on the more difficult and nuanced issues, good.

    • Grogey says:

      I’m ex-tactic that they actually all agreed on something….

  2. Etoiles says:

    Even though I know second-hand (my spouse works in the field) how much of a pain in the ass it will be to bring all the audio levels into alignment at the network origination site, I don’t care. This is awesometacular.

    • digital0verdose says:

      O_o

      Not it isn’t. I worked at a TV studio for several years. All you do is run the file through any audio program and adjust the levels to what is normal for the on air broadcast.

      • tchann says:

        That’s assuming your station is fully digital or automated. MANY stations out there are still running mainly off BSP and don’t have that capability.

      • Etoiles says:

        I was more thinking about the logistics, thinking personally of an origination facility that manages ~24 networks (~12 channels, but SD and HD are separate), and adding one more step to the process.

    • kc2idf says:

      Just set a standard audio level. Since it is all digital media, setting the audio level to a standard level (e.g. -20dbFS integrated over the length of the program segment), the set level should stand perfectly until it is reproduced by the end-viewer’s TV.

      Done right, you could even do this without using a compressor.

      Of course, if you have to, you can use a compressor. Set the threshold to something lower than the typical programming/commercial sound levels, give it a good, long integration period (a second or so) and a high ratio. The high ratio will keep things reigned in, while the long integration period will make it a tad less obnoxious.

      I think, though, that as long as you have access to fully-recorded media, you should be able to find the average volume level for any commercial and any programming segment, and find a gain level that, applied to the material, will bring that volume level to whatever you have designated as your standard.

    • Griking says:

      Couldn’t the broadcasters just require that all content presented to them for broadcasting be recorded at a specific level? Wouldn’t it be easier to set a standard sound level at the time of recording rather than try to edit things later?

  3. grucifer says:

    I’m all for volume control on commercials but really, our government felt this was a pressing enough issue to hold a vote on it?

    Sigh…

    • redskull says:

      Indeed. Yet another item on the very long list of things the government has no business sticking its nose into, like steroid use in baseball and gay marriage.

      • apd09 says:

        Gay marriage is an issue they need to address. There is supposed to be a separation of church and state, and marriage is a religious institution that is recognized by the state which then provides tax benefits to people. The right thing to do is legalize all marriages whether you agree with gay marriage or not, because marriage is based in religion and religion is not supposed to dictate state activities.

        Therefor it is a serious issue that should be taken into consideration by the government but not so much gay marriage as marriage in general and all benefits awarded to people who are married should be removed or the benefits should be provided to all. Also homosexuality in the military because if you have laws against the persecution of homosexuals, then they should have nothing to fear about serving the military in an open fashion.

        The government has openly opposed gay marriage and life style based solely on religious institution recommendations of proper life style even though the romans, greeks, etc… all took part in homosexual activities IN THE ARMY in an open and encouraged manner. What was the old saying, women are for marrying and men are for fun.

        I am not gay but I am a supporter of gay rights and gay marriage. I know it is really weird for a republican but we all deserve equal and fair treatment.

        • unsunder says:

          Separation of church and state only means that the government won’t be ran by any one religion.

        • redskull says:

          I just don’t think the government should be deciding who can marry who.

          • Gulliver says:

            They have for years and always will. Inheritance laws are based on marriage. Tax laws, SSI, Medicare, auto insurance rates, medical insurance coverage, all based on marriage. Unfortunately, when the states have different laws, that effect the entire country, it becomes a mess.
            I would suggest MY civil rights are an area that is more important than tax cuts, the economy, fighting in Iraq, a Islamic community center and the federal deficit.

          • digital0verdose says:

            When there are tax issues involved in such an arrangement, the Government definitely has a say in the matter.

            If marriage were 100% only a religious affair then you would be correct.

            • howie_in_az says:

              So have the government only recognize civil unions of any two people. Let “marriage” be a religious thing needing to be approved by $DIETY_OF_CHOICE.

        • evnmorlo says:

          Marriage benefits are supposed to encourage children. And military facilities are segregated by sex. Maybe these goals aren’t worthwhile, and maybe they can’t be practically implemented, but the government is not persecuting gays on religious grounds.

          • Anonymously says:

            Why does the government need to encourage children?

            • howie_in_az says:

              More taxpayers.

              • Anonymously says:

                Seems to me there’s plenty of people coming into this country willing to pay taxes that are being denied entry or deported.

                • Anonymously says:

                  I think the answer is “more soldiers”, not “more taxpayers”. Which also explains the reluctance to repeal DADT. Gay soldiers (usually) don’t make more soldiers.

          • ARP says:

            Interesting- So old people should not be married? Should people who are infertile be married? Should people who have stated they don’t want kids be married?

          • Conformist138 says:

            Man… Shame be on the man or woman physically incapable of fathering/bearing children. They should have their marriage licenses revoked.

            Seriously, WTF?

    • Bativac says:

      Yeah, I mean, seriously, who gives a rat’s ass? Commercial volume? Is this really an issue?

  4. areaman says:

    I’m glad they’re not “taking sides” on this one and not crowbaring it into a free market vs public interest debate.

    That is until the lobbiest start throwing some cash around.

  5. CharlesFarley says:

    Here is an interesting post as to “why” this is:

    http://gizmodo.com/5652346/why-commercials-are-louder-than-television-shows

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      I always thought it was because they researched and determined day time watchers either leave during commercials or are actually listening to a TV in another room while they do chores.

      Think of stay at home moms – while they might spend some time at the TV, they are still moving around. And what better way to ensure they hear your commercial then to have it at volumes akin to fighter jets landing in your living room.

  6. LaurelHS says:

    If people don’t like the volume of TV commercials, their remote control does have a mute button. Or you can just record the show and skip the commercials. I guess I don’t understand why legislation was required here.

    • Michaela says:

      Because having to pick up the remote constantly to change the volume is very annoying and distracting. I keep the tv on most of the time I am at home because the noise comforts me (I live alone). I have to stop whatever I am doing to adjust the volume during commercials though (gets too loud for me to concentrate). Therefore, I am glad to see this pass.

    • Anonymously says:

      Because millions of people having to do that is inconvenient and stupid, and the fix was relatively easy?

    • womynist says:

      What happened to TVs with Smart Sound? I thought that was supposed to make the volume of the shows and commercials the same, on all channels. Do TVs even still have that feature?

      • Fafaflunkie Plays His World's Smallest Violin For You says:

        It’s still there — at least on my Samsung TV it is. It’s called “Auto volume” and yes, I turn it on. See? No laws required.

  7. AngryK9 says:

    So, the bureaucrats don’t like the Staples “THAT’S A LOW PRICE!” commercial either.

  8. BuyerOfGoods3 says:

    While this is an annoying practice – I think there are FAR MORE PRESSING ISSUES. Try the CHEMICALS AND POLLUTANTS IN THE GULF OF MEXICO, you bastards.

    Yes, I said it.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Why put a halt to truly bipartisan issues just because the partisan ones are still in debate.

      If we can get some obvious and easily-done progress through while we maintain to work on the more difficult and nuanced issues, good.

    • eyesack is the boss of the DEFAMATION ZONE says:

      Yeah man. Why isn’t Maria Cantwell currently donning a swimming suit and a big-ass net and catching all those bad chemicals?

      Oh, wait, it was passed as an amendment with unanimous consent, and as such took about three minutes? Nevermind.

    • justagigilo85 says:

      Though I agree with you on principle, if this is something quick and easy to fix, why not just get it out of the way?

      Have you ever watched a show where the volume was so low, you had to crank the volume… only to be blasted by a sneak attack commercial?

  9. JayPhat says:

    I’m looking at you Fx!

    • Stiv says:

      No kidding! I’m just about startled out of my skin whenever an ad for “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” comes on. That and Comedy Central’s voice-over guy (oh, wait, I remember now…that’s Penn Jillette. He’s damn loud in his own right).

    • Sian says:

      +1
      FX is one of the worst offenders of this.It’s not that their commercials are loud, but their programming is so quiet I need to crank the volume to crazy levels just to hear anything, and then on commercial break, BLAM.

  10. Alvis says:

    Doesn’t really ban LOUD commercials so much as LOUDER commercials.

  11. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Poster child example of bipartisan bills. I think this annoyed everyone in America.

    Bravo.

  12. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    What?!

  13. Gandalf the Grey says:

    I wonder if this bill had been passes a year ago, how would that have affected the Worst Commercial in America polls.

  14. SonarTech52 says:

    Good, because that is very annoying… I tend to stay up late and watch TV while my wife sleeps. Ill be listening to it very low, then a commercial comes on and blasts her awake.. not cool..

    • ScarletsWalk says:

      same for me if my kid fell asleep watching tv and I put on “grown up” shows.

      yes, I know there are a million more pressing issues, life and death issues, but I am happy for this.

  15. comatose says:

    I’m 100% for this, but is the U.S. SENATE the correct forum to address this in? Don’t they have more important things to worry about like the deterioration of privacy, economic issues, civil liberty matters, patent reform, etc.?

    It’s like the cops setting up a big speed trap on a lonely road a 1/4 mile away from a bunch of houses getting hit by a home invasion crew.

  16. tchann says:

    Hi. I work in television syndication. Part of my job is getting commercials integrated into a show before the show is distributed to stations. These commercials come from a variety of formats – from BSP tape to Digital-BSP tape to HD-CAM tape to HD-CAM SR to DVD and two different online distribution services. And those spots come from different advertising agencies or production houses with their own internal standards for audio and video. As the syndicator, we have little to no control as to the quality of the spots that we put into the shows.

    But it doesn’t end there. When the show is distributed to stations, it includes ‘Local Black’ – a period of black on the tape that allows the stations to put their own commercials in. They suffer from the same problem – different spots from different advertisers with levels varying across the board – and many stations have an additional hurdle: lack of equipment to make it better.

    The television station I used to work at would take the spots for an entire day and put them on reels to be aired. This meant that not only were they putting their own spots in, but they were playing from another tape entirely – and making sure that all tapes in the station were equal on audio and video levels was not just time consuming, but also required a level of skill the operators simply didn’t have. Master Control/Tape Operator is typically the entry-level position in a broadcast station – it’s boring and tedious and no one wants to do it, but you gotta pay your dues.

    In other words? This bill is a pain in the ass.

    • kgmoome says:

      You will learn a new skill then

      :)

      • apd09 says:

        You forgot to add Waves hand in front of person these are not the droids you’re looking for, um… I meant, you will learn a new skill.

    • Slave For Turtles says:

      I’m sorry if I sound cold-hearted to you and your co-workers, but somehow I don’t see this task showing up on “Dirty Jobs” anytime soon. I’m sorry it’s such a pain in the tush to fix (normalize, whatever), but living with it is a broader pain to millions of viewers.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Perhaps TV networks can actually require decibal ranges on commercial submissions.

      It’s really not that hard to implement, it’s just you haven’t been required until now.

      Stop your bellyaching, you will figure it out!

      • tchann says:

        You’ve got the solution right there – the NETWORKS need to require that the spots be a certain quality before there’s going to be any change made. MANY stations (and syndicators) don’t have the ability or the clout to get this fixed. But if the punishment is going to small local stations without affiliation, who can’t afford equipment to fix this, then the change will be slow in coming.

        Basically I’m just defending the syndicators here (because the linked article lists them as a culprit). There’s only so much we can do for the client (the show), and it’s the client that needs to take ownership of the spots in the program.

      • Aaron Anderson says:

        There’s a lot more to it than just decibel levels.

        You can use audio compression to make something much easier to hear, giving it the perception of “more decibels” while it’s not technically any louder than it was before it was compressed.

        I’m sure they use this tactic to their advantage… that’s how they get them so loud in the first place.

    • Slave For Turtles says:

      I should also say thank you for explaining what’s involved.

    • Aaron Anderson says:

      I have a background in audio and understand compressors and normalization rather well….

      I understand that having things from a bunch of different sources is a pain in the backside, but if what you were saying was completely true, then there would be commercials that are “too quiet” relatively speaking.

      The reality here is that the commercial producers compress (audio compression, not file compression) the sound so it is easier to hear giving the effect of “louder”

      The problem is that even a “normal” commercial will seem different depending what program it is interrupting.

      It’s like when you first turn the lights on in the morning. They seem very bright because your eyes have been closed… but when you come in from a hot summers day, you can’t see anything and the light isn’t enough.. it’s all relative.

      They’ll figure out a way to normalize the audio on the fly as it hits the airwaves. You sample the program that is being aired and then match the commercials to a similar level. Easy.

    • DoodlestheGreat says:

      Think of it as job security.

    • FrugalFreak says:

      well the broadcasters need to accept only one format. Simple. If the advertisers want AD on air, they must submit in correct format. It is as simple as that. the broadcasters don’t need MORE money for some invisible alignment or equipment.

    • Bye says:

      Those of us fortunate to have jobs have to work hard. Be thankful. You wouldn’t rather those of us who still tune in to stop watching broadcast TV altogether, would you? Because seriously that’s what these loud commercials make my family want to do.

    • Dave on bass says:

      How about just plain brickwall limiting? Okay, maybe with a tiny bit of soft-knee to try to avoid clipping for the sake of the viewer*. I ask not in sarcasm, but as a musician.

      *because their commercials coming out digitally distorted to hell would server the advertisers right, but we have to think of the people!

    • sparc says:

      actually this bill is not a pain in the butt. It fixes all your problems.

      Now you can demand that all the original sources meet certain standards before it gets sent to you.

      You have the push now from the government to fix the problems within your industry.

  17. kgmoome says:

    Will it be enforced?

    • DoodlestheGreat says:

      Have the American public do it. Give a $1k reward to the first person who sends in a legit violation, paid for by the offender. Think of all the old people and housewives who’ll be able to supplement their income while watching soap operas, police procedurals, and “Oprah.”

      • Tongsy says:

        Then you’ll just have a bunch of tv stations going off the air, since I would think they would ultimately be responsible for ensuring the volume is correct

      • tchann says:

        Who’s the real offender? The station, the network, the syndicator, the program provider, or the advertisement provider?

        This is part of the problem I have with this. =

  18. Floppywesl says:

    What are these ” Commercials ” you speak of? Do you mean the 3 skips in between my tv shows i watch?

  19. outis says:

    In the nick of time, too!
    What’s a commercial?

  20. DoodlestheGreat says:

    I know it’s a minor thing, but I don’t care. It’s been coming for tar too long and I am so happy it’s going to be against the law.

  21. olderbudwizer says:

    A lot of TV manufacturers USED to include a feature to control that – generally referred to as ‘level sound’ or something like that. But as I discovered last year when shopping for a new HD set, most don’t offer that anymore and those that do have limited functionality. Would seem cheaper to do it there than leave it to the broadcast and source providers. That will only be another factor for increa$ed rate$ before long.

    • Sparkstalker says:

      My new Onkyo receiver has the feature, but I haven’t tried it yet.

    • Fafaflunkie Plays His World's Smallest Violin For You says:

      I mentioned this previously, but my (about 1 year old) Samsung TV has this auto-volume levelling feature, which works quite well. I never notice any over-powering volume from a commercial. I guess that means it works.

  22. VaultDweller says:

    This is fantastic. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been watching a show at a normal volume and then all of a sudden the commercials ARE SCREAMING AT ME. You would imagine this would be less effective for advertisers, since nothing has me hitting the mute button faster, but maybe it works on some consumers.

    • pokinsmot says:

      Tell me about it! I remember falling asleep with the TV on then suddenly the AB Lounger commercial would come on, and EVERY time it came on I would wake up and be startled because I think somebody is yelling at me. Most commercials are fine, but the few that are horrible ruin it for everybody else. The AB Lounger was the worst commercial considering that your ears were ringing after the first few seconds.

  23. Chip Skylark of Space says:

    Don’t worry about all of the votes being cast next month being COUNTED. At least we’ll all keep our hearing because Congress has dealt with the critical commercial volume issue. Way to stay in the loop, Senators and Congressmen. Why not have some more hearings about drugs in professional sports while you’re at it?

  24. HogwartsProfessor says:

    Now please get rid of all the bugs and animated scrolling things at the bottom of the screen, which take up a good quarter of the picture and cover subtitles, etc. Or they jump around all over the screen and you can’t see what’s going on.

    I HATE THAT!

    • tchann says:

      Actually, some of those bugs are required by law – part of station identification. They can either run the bug, or interrupt the program for a “YOU ARE WATCHING” announcement at the proper intervals.

    • nybiker says:

      +1. Add to that list station logos too and show titles (when I set up my recorder for an 8pm event, I see CBS showing ET [not the movie, the 'entertainment' shill show] and the show name is plastered on the screen. Gee, you think the people watching all the infomercial stuff on it don’t already know what they’re watching? I say infomercial since they have sponsored pieces of information. I think it’s because it’s a syndicated show, ’cause I’ve noticed on others whenever I’ve channel-surfed.

    • NotEd says:

      They can’t cover the subtitles or closed captions, as they are usually generated in the display or in a receiver like a cable box, if one is in use. That means they have to be on top of everything in the picture.

    • tbax929 says:

      TNT drives me crazy with this. “You’re watching The Closer”. Thanks, a lot, TNT. Otherwise, I would’ve had no idea what I was watching.

    • Fafaflunkie Plays His World's Smallest Violin For You says:

      Maybe if you people would stop hitting that COMMERCIAL SKIP button on your TiVo, then we wouldn’t have to put plugs and ads in the lower-third while the show’s airing! You noticed them, didn’t you? That means they worked!

      (signed)

      Old cranky Network executive.

      P.S.: GET OFF MY LAWN!

  25. Hoss says:

    At least with broadcast TV, I thought this was already regulated? As was a set transition buffer between the show and commercial

  26. Fumanchu says:

    Now only if we could legislate away annoying commericals in general.

  27. StrangeEmily says:

    Why not just hand out Government Coupons for volume modulators, though that only works for people who have AV cables on the television so there is a huge fault in my logic there.
    Also tv stations have been getting away with the previous bill for years, the trick is to make the tv shows even quieter and then play the commercials at the allowable volume level.

  28. StarVapor says:

    TV stations have known for decades how to send out a compressed, balanced, audio signal. But they instead chose the low-road approach of ignoring complaints from the public in favor of their advertisers’ loud, screaming, obnoxious, audio dynamics used to make to make their $ales and maximize profit$.

  29. DoodlestheGreat says:

    I just thought of something, but I need to leave and can’t check my theory out:

    I bet there’s an exemption for political ads.

    If an enterprising soul could check on this and confirm/deny, it would be appreciated.

  30. dumblonde says:

    I’m all for this. I’m also guessing the Senate did it so they can regulate cable channels. If the FCC had done it it would only apply to airwave TV.

  31. NotEd says:

    You know, SRS labs had been advertising a technology they came up with the equalize the sound that can be integrated into TVs and Receivers. It is supposed to work better than similar feature built in in the past. I foget what they called it.
    I wonder how hard it would be to integrate something like that into modern modulators found in most headends at tv stations and cable/satellite companies?

  32. The Marionette says:

    I thought they already took care of this problem before? If i’m not mistaken, it was either on consumerist or another site that was pointing out a specific commercial that was a lot louder than the rest of the broadcasting. From what I remembered someone stepped in and had them change the volume. None the less I think they should be at least at the same level as the rest of the shows.

  33. Macgyver says:

    Good, I hate those loud ass commercials.
    Now they need to do it for online video also, Hulu gotten better at that, but Fancast and some other sites commercials are like 3 time the volume of the show.

    Those people that are saying that the government shouldn’t get involved (which they shouldn’t have), but who else would’ve done that, the FCC wasn’t gonna do anything about it.

  34. Boo LaRue says:

    Wonderful! I finally feel vindicated about that Le Cordon Bleu Cooking School commercial. The loudest, most annoying, possibly seizure-inducing commercial ever, especially at 4:30 a.m. when you’re rolling out of the bed to go to work.

  35. Not Given says:

    What about the ads the cable company adds to everything?

  36. samonela says:

    Billy Mays dies and THEN the Senate decides to vote?!

    Coincidence?

  37. djshinyo says:

    Totally blanking on what the process is called, but my college radio station had a limiter (Maybe Normalize is the term I want?) of sorts on the signal that was broadcast….I cannot imagine this sort of technology is extinct, and could not be adapted for television.

  38. Radoman says:

    Wow, it’s great to hear that congress is listening to the people on this one. These loud commercials have been ridiculous for some time now. I applaud the bipartisanship shown by the GOP in not blocking this bill.

    Too bad they can’t show this kind of unity on things like passing the bill to end outsourcing of American jobs.

    Republicans block Democratic outsourcing bill

    I mean, I know the GOP wants to halt legislative progress to make the Democrats seem ineffectual, but it seems like even the Republicans should stand behind a plan to bring more jobs back to America. Let’s start the recovery of the middle class already.

  39. Anaxamenes says:

    The stations don’t really need new equipment, they just need to tell their advertisers that they must send their commercials at a certain sound level. They’ll hate it, but it’s the law.

  40. barcodetattoo says:

    Ahh yes. Our fearless leaders hard at work. Good to know I pay my taxes every April 15th so that advertising I don’t really care to see gets its volume turned down. How about tackling pertinent issues?

  41. ICD says:

    I don’t understand the whinning from broadcast technicians about implementing this.
    A simple device called an audio compressor/limiter has been in use for at least 30 years.
    Inserting one between the source of advertizing material and the transmitter is hardly challenging.
    My Comcast cable box and my surround receivers all have optional compressors built in for “late night viewing”.
    If I had drafted the bill I have gone further – limiting advertizers to sterio sound and stopping them from using the low frequency effects(LFE) channel to shake the room.

  42. SkyHawk says:

    I like this. Even though the industry has picked up on this (SRS), it’s nice to know that the government thinks it’s a problem, too.