December 13, 2012

Quieter on the set: new law will muffle loud, obnoxious ads

Those loud, annoying TV commercials should end Thursday under a new law that says the volume has to be similar to the program the ads interrupt.

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Cries of "The Furniture Superstore! The Furniture Superstore!" and other ear-splitting commercial pitches emanating from TV sets across Maine should be quieter right about now.

click image to enlarge

WGME-TV chief engineer Craig Clark says stations have equipment to make it easy to meet the new volume standard for commercials.

Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

WGME television's chief engineer Craig Clark in the station's production control room.

STILL TOO LOUD?

To lodge a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission about a loud commercial, go online to esupport.fcc.gov/complaints.htm, click on "Broadcast (TV and Radio), Cable, and Satellite Issues," and follow the prompts for "Loud Commercials."

New Federal Communications Commission rules limiting the volume of TV commercials took effect Thursday, after years of people complaining that ads on TV were obnoxiously loud -- much louder than the programs they interrupt.

Adopted in December 2011, the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act requires that TV stations, cable and satellite operators, and other pay TV providers ensure that commercials "have the same average volume as the programs they accompany." Failure to comply could result in fines.

Many viewers are loudly cheering the idea of quieter commercials, and local TV stations and other TV providers say the rules make sense and should be fairly easy to live by.

But at least one Maine advertiser says the new rule could hurt business.

Doug Abrams of The Furniture Superstore in South Portland and Lisbon says the whole idea of a business buying a TV ad is to get noticed. In The Furniture Superstore's commercials, Abrams shouts his store's name -- over and over and over again -- to capture viewers' attention.

And a quieter ad, he fears, may get less attention.

"I really can't say if it will affect us or not, or whether we'll change our ads, but the two ways to get people to notice your ads is either by the frequency or by doing something unusual," said Abrams, a co-owner of the family-owned stores.

"If I was a TV watcher, I'd say this is a great thing," he said. "But people should realize this could affect businesses. Businesses might have to redirect some of their advertising."

But some viewers are saying the opposite might occur -- that lowering the volume on commercials might make them pay more attention, not less.

"Whenever I turn on the TV and get a commercial, I feel accosted, and my reaction is to protect myself and retreat, so I don't watch it," said Arthur Fink, 65, a consultant to nonprofit groups and a photographer who lives on Peaks Island. "But if I hear a commercial at a more reasonable volume, I'm more likely to listen."

Jamie Brookes, 56, of Yarmouth, watches very little commercial TV and thinks it's "presumptuous" of TV providers and advertisers to "barge into" people's homes with ads that are much louder than programs.

Portland's TV stations say that in the past, it was harder to control the volume of commercials, because ads are produced by outside sources before being delivered to the station or cable company. But complying with a commercial volume standard today is simpler, because the right tools are available.

"We have equipment in place now that monitors the audio and looks at all the data, and it has boundaries for what the volume should be," said Craig Clark, chief engineer at Portland's CBS affiliate station, WGME (Channel 13).

When broadcasters were required by the government to switch from analog to digital signals a few years ago, the difference in program and commercial volumes became even greater.

"The compression technology used with digital raises all aspects of the audio, and basically it enhanced the sound," said Steve Carter, president and general manager of Portland's NBC affiliate, WCSH (Channel 6). "With technology today, we have the ability to control (volume) for commercials."

All but one of Portland's six commercial TV stations said they were ready to begin complying with the CALM Act right away, and have the equipment in place and tested. Some, including WGME and Portland's ABC affiliate, WMTW (Channel 8), have been using the equipment for about a year.

(Continued on page 2)

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