FCC: TV Commercials Will Be A Lot Quieter One Year From Now

Today the Federal Communications Commission is expected to pass regulations requiring that all commercials on TV be at a constant level — which means no sudden blaring of Wacky Wild Wally screaming at you about the best RV deals in town. Well, he might still be screaming but he won’t permanently damage your hearing.

The order will go into effect one year from today, says USA Today, and decrees that “commercials must have the same average volume as the programs they accompany,” according to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

It’s taken a year from when President Obama signed a law that gave the FCC authority to even look into the problem of overly loud commercials. At that time, a Harris poll found that 86% of people surveyed said TV commercials were louder than the shows they were watching, and in some cases, extremely louder.

A normal TV broadcast is around 70 decibels, compared to 60 for a chat in a restaurant and 80 for a garbage disposal.

“It is a problem that thousands of viewers have complained about, and we are doing something about it,” Genachowski says.

Parul P. Desai, Policy Counsel for Consumers Union, which endorsed the law, said, “We’re glad that consumers are finally going to get some relief from extra-loud TV ads. People have been complaining about the volume of TV commercials for decades. The law is a relatively simple and straightforward measure that has really struck a chord with consumers.”

Loud TV commercials to leave quietly, thanks to FCC [USA Today]

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  1. TVGenius says:

    Last I checked, a ‘normal’ TV broadcast was around however many decibels you choose to set your TV at… always good to see that lawmakers have their priorities straight.

    • Guppy06 says:

      And how many “decibels” do you set your TV at, exactly?

    • Eremis77 says:

      *headdesk* Riiight…and when the typical commercial is 20% louder than the ‘normal’ volume level you have your TV set at, you don’t think this is a problem?

      The FCC designated a certain range for TV volume, and actual TV programs stay in the middle of this range, saving the louder volume for actual explosions. Commercials, on the other hand, proudly use the loudest range they can to get your attention, and therefore really piss me off.

      • Not Given says:

        How about double the volume? My cable company puts all their ads on at the same volume however loud the channel is. Some of the channels I have to turn way up to hear, then when their ads come on I’m blasted out of my chair.
        Ads coming from 3 sources and I’m getting sick of seeing the same ones 5 times in a row.

      • eldritch2k4 says:

        So, you realize that based on what you just said, the problem isn’t the commercials. The problem is the TV shows that broadcast at a lower volume than average.

        The solution here is volume leveling. Most modern TVs and almost all modern AV systems have a built in device that prevents large fluctuations in volume. Read your manual and use the system you’ve been provided with and you won’t have to jump for a remote every 7 minutes.

    • tinyninja says:

      Ah, you’ve never heard of the “Broken Window” theory.

      Back the 80s it was proposed that fixing the outer signs of urban decay–broken windows, graffitti and the like–might signal to would be vandals that “hey, we don’t do that shit here.” It appears to have worked in community after community–making projects more attractive does in fact reduce crime.

      How does this apply to the volume of commercials? Simple. Millions of people are going to have a daily annoyance removed. An annoyance that happens every few minutes depending on what you are watching. No more jumping for the remote when a commercial blares. No more having to adjust the volume every few minutes. Sure, it’s a first world problem, and a seemingly minor one, but this could have major effects on the national mood.

      Fix the little problems and the big problems diminish in size.

      • doctor.mike says:

        It’s not only a first-world problem! I’m in the Philippines often and they do the same with one big exception: The programming is reversed from what we see in the U.S. One hour of LOUD commercials, interrupted occasionally by a few minutes of soap operas. All the Filipinos seem to love that. I can’t drag them away from the TV even to go for dinner.

    • AstroPig7 says:

      Your comment belies your screenname. The volume you set to comfortably watch a programme may have to be reduced whenever a loud commercial comes on. One volume does not fit all programming. tinyninja addressed the legislative reasoning for this, so I won’t rehash it.

    • Rachacha says:

      So what would you rather have the FCC be working on that you feel is more important?

    • johnyg30518 says:

      Last time I checked, decibel levels and volume levels were not one in the same.

    • minjche says:

      Last I checked, this is what the FCC is for. It’s not like the Department of Agriculture is taking this on, this sort of issue is part of the FCC’s purpose.

  2. borgia says:

    I like this. The only pity is that it will be fairly easy to cheat the “average volume” requirement unless the reg was really well written.

    • Fineous K. Douchenstein says:

      Previously the law stated that the maximum allowable decibel level for commercials was the highest decibel point for the TV broadcast, rather than the average.

  3. Nobody can say "Teehee" with a straight face says:

    So, who wants to think of the next commercial “Attention grabber” method used? My money is on flashing colors and near-seizure inducing screen switches.

    • MrMagoo is usually sarcastic says:

      Simple. The networks will sell ‘loud’ commercial slots.

      A show with a lot of loud explosions and action might have an average volume of 70dB, but the network will tone down the last 5 minutes before a commercial, with the characters sitting in a romantic restaurant with soft music playing quietly whispering sweet nothings to each other.

      People at home will reach for their remotes and turn up the volume so that they can hear what the dialogue…

      The scene ends and goes to a commerical…

      BOOM! You’re blasted out of your chair by a Ford commercial playing at a compliant 70dB.

      The network can charge a premium to companies to place their commercials in these first slots after quiet spots in the shows.

      • minjche says:

        It’s scary for me to initially think “this person is crazy” and then realize that such a thing might actually come true.

  4. scottydog says:

    I thought they passed this a few years back?

    • MECmouse says:

      I thought they had too…like in the 80’s? I don’t know why the cable/dish TV companies can’t do this already?! This drives me nuts and I don’t guess the companies have figured out that most of us MUTE it the second they come on because we can’t stand the noise instead of maybe watching their commercials.

  5. Cat says:

    I must be missing something here. Where is the payoff in this for future employment of Genachowski and Company?

  6. chargerRT says:

    OK, so now the industry will simply apply compression to the programs, just like so-called “loud” commercials have for years. Then people will complain that the audio sucks all around.

  7. Rachacha says:

    The current regulation on Commercial volume says something to the effect that the commercial can be no louder than the loudest thing on the program. In other words, the big car explosion that happened right before the commercial break would be a 10 (on a scale of 1-10) , and the show dialogue would be at a 5. Commercials could have the dialogue of the commercial at the 10 level. The commercial was no louder than the loudest portion of the TV show, but the explosion lasted only for 1 second, compared with the 30+ seconds for the commercial.

    The new regulation would require the average show volume and the average commercial volume to be at the same level.

    • Murph1908 says:

      Does it read this way? The article says average volume, which would mean the explosion scene would be counterbalanced by quieter scenes.

      • Rachacha says:

        Sorry, I did not finish my thought.

        The law that is currently on the books does not allow commercials to exceed the maximum volume of the program.

        The regulations that the FCC is expected to pass today change the existing law and require commercials to be no louder than the AVERAGE volume of the program.

  8. sirwired says:

    Errr… how does a broadcast even HAVE a sound level? Doesn’t it depend on how loud I turn up my TV?

    Perhaps they should have said that commercials, are, on average, currently X decibels louder than the programs they accompany. (The decibel DIFFERENCE is easy to measure, even if the absolute level is indefinite.)

    • Nobody can say "Teehee" with a straight face says:

      Have you ever listened to music that has varying levels of volume? Maybe at one point it even goes silent, or the vocalist whispers as the accompanying music stops? Many TV programs will vary the volume so that they can have varying degrees of loudness at different points, depending on what’s happening. Commercials exploit that, and some of them play at the loudest possible setting the entire time.

      • sirwired says:

        Yes, I know that. But decibels are a measure of absolute sound level as perceived by your ear. (It’s a logarithimic scale, and 10 points mean something carries ten times as much power and is perceived by your ear as approximately twice as “loud”.)

        There is no way for the FCC, or anybody, to know how loud you have the TV turned up.

        Hence my statement it would have been more accurate to say that commercials are commonly X decibels louder than TV programs. It is not accurate to say that TV programs are 70 decibels.

        • HogwartsProfessor says:

          “There is no way for the FCC, or anybody, to know how loud you have the TV turned up.”

          No, there isn’t, but I think it’s pretty obvious that the commercials are indeed, louder than the show when the volume the TV is set at doesn’t change that. If you play a channel at a slightly lower volume, the commercials are still louder.

          Advertisers have been getting away with more and more crap lately. This for one will make watching TV better.

        • Nobody can say "Teehee" with a straight face says:

          The way I always thought of it was this:

          You have the TV set to a maximum decibel allowance of 80 (or whatever). Television programs will use a specific percentage of that allowance for different scenes. A normal talk will run at 75%, an explosion at 100%, etc… Commercials, meanwhile, would just flat out use 100%.

          So the new regulation would set the maximum percentage of allowed decibels to be the same as the average percentage used by the program itself.

    • Steve H. says:

      It’s measured on a reference, which is standard for any measurement of signal audio. And these days, since most broadcast is digital, there is indeed a maximum “volume” achievable (not that there wasn’t before with analog but now it’s a fixed point)

    • Andy S. says:

      Every program and commercial is preceded by reference signals for video and audio.

      SMPTE bars and tone: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufkKucKzwb4

      HD bars and tone: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Rvd6uP2rVE

      I’ll forgo explaining the video, but the audio is relatively simple. The sound you hear is a 1000 hertz tone (1khz) at 0db). 0db is the absolute maximum level and -10db is silence. Geek speak and pretty much the opposite of the numbers you see any volume control.

      Most television programming averages -3db or about 70% of the maximum legally allowable audio level. Commercials, OTOH, tend to be -.05db to 0db or 95% to 100% of the

      That’s why commercials sound louder even though they are within the maximum legally allowable audio levels.

  9. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    Finally! No more being startled awake while drooling in my easy chair. Stupid loud commercials startle me and in turn, scare whichever cat is sitting on my lap. I’m glad someone is concerned with the cats’ best interest.

  10. Power Imbalance says:

    This is one of my biggest pet peeves.

  11. Guppy06 says:

    I’m sure this will be welcome news for all those people who don’t use a DVR or download/stream their content outright.

    The only reason TV advertising is becoming more annoying is the medium is becoming less relevant.

  12. Daggertrout says:

    For some reason this is the first thing I thought of.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JiRz0wKBVek

  13. ilovemom says:

    Seems like TV manufacturers should be able to solve this problem with technology.

    • Rachacha says:

      There is technology out today that does this, but it does not always work, and it can impact the sound quality of the program. If you pass a law, making the broadcasters as well as the commercial owners equally responsible you will solve the problem with no additional burden on taxpayers (as most commercials have less than a 1 year lifecycle, most of the commercials will not need to have their audio re-mastered, therefore little to no additional cost) and preserve the audio quality of the program.

      • ilovemom says:

        I hadn’t seen this option. I wouldn’t mind if the leveling fixed loud action/montage scenes too — those annoy me. But it sounds like the tech needs a little more time to develop anyhow.

        • cincyfan04 says:

          Fixing the average volume of a signal by manipulating your tv would be like trying to make an overcooked steak raw by putting it in your freezer. The problem is at the source, not the tv.

    • Silverhawk says:

      They did. We have had 2 such TVs in our household with a volume leveling feature to combat loud commercials. They don’t work well, mainly having to do with failing to return to proper volume when returning from a commercial break.

  14. Cor Aquilonis says:

    I, for one, am glad they’re doing this. However, I don’t watch TV on TV, but TV on the internet, so I doubt I’ll enjoy the benefits. :(

  15. Fumanchu says:

    I see the problem with this already, same AVERAGE volmue why do i see commercials being like HELLOOOOOOOO *wisper* *wisper* BUY MEGA PLOX *wisper* *wisper*

    • teamplur says:

      I think they mean, the maximum sound of the commercial cannot exceed the average sound of the program it’s run with.

  16. ssevern says:

    Now they will just make the intro to the commercial really loud, and counter that with a few seconds of silence at the end of the commercial….

  17. dolemite says:

    Finally, something to ease the annoyance of commercials. Bad enough I pay over $100 a month for cable to sit there and be blasted with advertising every 10 minutes, but can I at least not have to scramble for the remote to crank the volume down between tv shows and the commercials?

  18. catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

    i wonder if this will apply to internet viewing as well. i don’t watch regular tv anymore, it’s all streamed via roku or pc. and some of those commercials on tv.com or hulu plus can get really loud too

  19. Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

    Measuring advertising in decibels is a little confusing, what with the whole ‘set your tv to whatever volume you like’…

    They mean to say is that advertising will be ‘normalized’ to the same level as the television programming… but then, I don’t think everybody knows what audio normalization is. :U

  20. PsychoRaven says:

    All I have to say is thank god!!!

    It gets so damn annoying when you’re watching a good show and then it goes to commercial only for me to cease having ear drums due to the commercial being ungodly loud.

  21. Swins says:

    I had been told that some of the commercials come in mono v stereo so they are porting the full sound out of both speakers, which effectively makes it “louder”

  22. Kuri says:

    Well, I’ll be happy with this is they don’t skirt it.

    Sick of watching something at a normal volume and then my ears are made to bleed with “DO YOU NEED MALE ENHANCEMENTQ?!?!?

  23. rockelscorcho says:

    I do it now by muting commercials. I got to say, prescription drug commercials are odd when on mute..everyone is just walking around, biking or at a state fair in slow motion. It’s kinda creepy. Additionally, television is much more peaceful on mute.

  24. rockelscorcho says:

    I do it now by muting commercials. I got to say, prescription drug commercials are odd when on mute..everyone is just walking around, biking or at a state fair in slow motion. It’s kinda creepy. Additionally, television is much more peaceful on mute.

  25. Such an Interesting Monster says:

    Too bad this doesn’t include Internet video. Anyone else notice those ridiculous ads are also twice as loud as the actual program. It’s so stupid. Don’t these idiots realize that when you piss people off they are going to go out of their way to NOT buy your products or services?

  26. SPOON - now with Forkin attitude says:

    how does this play out on hulu or other interweb tv that is commercial driven?

  27. DrRonster says:

    A show’s audience participation would be enhanced resulting in a higher average volume = higher commercial volume.

  28. Mac says:

    It depends on how you measure the loudness. There are all kinds of metrics beyond just a simple vU meter. With digital processing you can make things louder but the measured levels may not appear excessive. Music today has almost no dynamic range. It’s all about the loudness.Almost all broadcast audio is heavilly altered by compressors, limiters and other processing equipment.
    To be effective you have to have standards that apply to programs and commercials. Not just the commercials.

  29. SJ says:

    At least they didn’t classify it as a vegetable!

  30. NumberSix says:

    I see lots of shows with sirens and explosions that didn’t have them before.

  31. GJaunts says:

    The commercials don’t really bother me all that much. However, what I find REALLY aggravating is how so many movies and TV shows have the music and sound effects SO MUCH LOUDER than the dialogue. I don’t get why this is so.

  32. Ablinkin says:

    I suspect his will be only enforced on over the air television. NOT satellite, cable, or internet delivered service.

  33. Big Dave says:

    Well, it’s about time. Now they need to move onto the next TV pet peeve … where the music track is so loud I can’t hear the dialogue. really pisses me off.

  34. Geotis says:

    That’s fine at the national level, but what about the local level?

  35. LocalH says:

    So the FCC is finally going to end the use of overcompression on commercial audio so that it will better match the programming that surrounds it?

    Now if the RIAA would only do this for CDs, I’d actually have a reason to support them again.

  36. XianZomby says:

    You know what would be cool? If TV manufacturers built a dial into a television set, or a button, that let you set maximum decibels that could come out of your set. Then instead of it being a relative thing, it would be an absolute thing.

    Then people could vote on this “issue” with their dollar, by purchasing such a television set.

    Then the FCC could focus on spectrum management and stay out of the business of regulating commerce or catering to whiners.

    • cincyfan04 says:

      That’s called compression. You will hate life if you can compress audio and don’t know what the eff you are doing. Your ears will fatigue so quickly that you’ll do damage without even realizing it.

  37. MECmouse says:

    Maybe if we started calling the companies with the really loud commercials and yelling at them and if they complained about how loud we were speaking we could just tell them, ‘Oh, I thought you liked shouting since you do it so much in your commercials!’ asshats