TV commercials get their volume turned down

Starting on Thursday, new federal rules go into effect that prohibit TV commercials from being too loud. Who says the government never gets anything done?

U.S. lawmakers passed the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (or CALM) Act in 2010, giving the Federal Communications Commission the power to crack down on excessive commercial volume. The FCC adopted loudness rules on December 13, 2011, and allowed a grace period of one year to begin enforcement.

The rules, which apply to broadcasters and pay TV providers such as Comcast and Verizon, state that commercials may not exceed the average volume of actual programming. In other words, advertisers can't simply crank the volume on their ads to shock viewers into paying attention. To come up with the rules, the FCC relied on guidelines from the Advanced Television Systems Committee, an industry group.

Keep in mind that the FCC's rules don't apply to the difference in volume between channels or between programs, nor do they set a cap on volume. Their only goal is to keep things consistent for any given TV show, so you needn't fiddle with the volume when commercials come on. Viewers who think spotted a loud commercial may now file a complaint with the FCC.

I remember writing about this issue elsewhere more than three years ago, when the CALM Act was moving through Congress, so it's hard to believe that something's finally come of it.

In the meantime, the tech industry has stepped up with its own solutions, such as Dolby Volume and SRS TruVolume, which have been integrated into TVs and stereo systems, so there's a chance you've already been spared from excessively loud commercials. And as Engadget notes, even the FCC has said that complaints have declined since 2009, when the measures were originally proposed. Still, the government's own rules are better late than never, and should keep us from being disturbed when we're just trying to doze off in front of the tube.

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