Congress acts to shush loud TV ads

By Associated Press
Posted Dec. 3, 2010 at 7:07 a.m.

Here’s a message TV viewers may not want to mute: The days of getting blasted out of the easy chair by blaring TV commercials may soon be over.

The House on Thursday gave final congressional approval to a bill that would prevent advertisers from abruptly raising the volume to catch the attention of viewers wandering off when regular programming is interrupted.

The bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., said it was her own “earsplitting experiences” that got her involved, recalling how the ads “blew us out of the house” when she watched television, already set at a high volume, with her parents.

But she said her office also has gotten many messages of support and that at home people come up to her in restaurants and supermarkets to ask how the bill is doing.

“TV programs use a variety of sound levels to build dramatic effect. But advertisements have been neither subtle nor nuanced,” Eshoo said after the House passed the bill on a voice vote. When the law goes into effect, she said, “consumers will no longer have to experience being blasted at.”

Under the legislation, now heading to President Barack Obama for his signature, the Federal Communications Commission would be required within one year to adopt industry standards that coordinate ad decibel levels to those of the regular program. The new regulations, applying to all broadcast providers, including cable and satellite, would go into effect a year after that.

“Every American has likely experienced the frustration of abrasively loud television commercials,” the Senate sponsor of the bill, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said when the Senate approved it in September. “While this may be an effective way for ads to grab attention, it also adds unnecessary stress to the daily lives of many Americans.”

“It’s not like the consumer has any choices,” said Mark Cooper, director of research at the Consumer Federation of America. “It’s a case where it’s very difficult for consumers to express their sovereignty.”

The FCC has been receiving complaints from consumers since the 1960s about jarring sound bursts when commercials come on, but the commission currently does not regulate program or commercial volume. Instead, it reminds viewers that newer TVs come equipped with circuits designed to stabilize volume differences or advises people that one solution is still to make aggressive use of the mute button on the remote.

The legislation would force the industry to abide by its own recommendations for audio standards as devised a year ago by the Advanced Television Systems Committee, an organization of broadcasters.

Dick O’Brien, director of government relations at the American Association of Advertising Agencies, said his group supports the bill because “we fully understand that advertising works best when it engages consumers, not alienates them.”

He said enforcing volume control guidelines already proposed by the industry “in itself should make the viewing experience of the American public a much more user-friendly one.”

Eshoo said there will be a “noticeable difference” in noise levels once the law goes into effect. It’s a small bill in the greater scheme of things, she said, but “it will bring relief to millions of television viewers.”

Managing the transition poses some technical challenges because the shows and ads come from a variety of sources, and may require TV broadcasters to purchase new equipment.

The legislation does give the FCC authority to issue waivers to broadcasters for hardship or other reasons.

One reason commercials may sound louder is a sound compression technique in which the difference between loud and soft sounds is compressed. The result is that while the peak sound levels of commercials and programs may not differ, the average levels of commercials are higher.

The title of the bill is the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, or CALM Act.



  1. les Dec. 3, 2010 at 8:04 a.m.

    its about time !! where the hell is the FCC this should have been corrected years ago…where are the standards? “great relief” for sure..
    thanks for one legislator thinking about the “masses”

  2. Art Dec. 3, 2010 at 8:12 a.m.

    Sush??? New word???

  3. ???? Dec. 3, 2010 at 8:28 a.m.

    Are you kidding me? Is this what congress is concerning themselves with nowadays? I would think the highly compensated government employees being paid with our tax dollars could be spending their time on something more appropriate to the concerns of the citizens. Just another example of why taxes shouldn’t be high. This is a complete waste of taxpayer dollars.. Unbelievable.

  4. Glenn Turner Dec. 3, 2010 at 9:57 a.m.

    This is fantastic news – congress has finally done something the benefit the citizens instead of big business.

    Of course all that will change next year when a split congress will bicker and accomplish nothing. Last I heard, the new republicans banded together and signed a letter saying that they will vote on nothing until the Bush tax breaks for the rich are extended – a virtual hissy fit – so I didn’t expect something beneficial like this to be announced.

    Hey, it’s not solving the budget crisis, but it SOMETHING out of Washington. Celebrate that.

  5. RegularGuy Dec. 3, 2010 at 11:47 a.m.

    Huh. What is ‘Cash For Gold’ going to do NOW?

  6. Pete Dec. 3, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    Like this law would ever actually be enforced.

  7. Grumpyoldlady Dec. 3, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    I thought this was already on the books, at least as regards radio – at least that’s what I was taught about 40 years ago. Maybe, in the hairsplitting mentality so beloved of lawyers and regulators, the rules are different for TV, let alone cable, or maybe in their eagerness to bend over to please their corporate masters, the regulators just forgot.

    Now let’s see ALL FORMS of non-mass-market advertising placed on a strict opt-in basis: NO junk mail, NO telemarketing calls and NO targeted online ads. Make it illegal for any business to collect any information not tied to a direct purchase (after all, they do have to bill and ship to you) or to sell or trade customer information except as part of a general sale of business assets. Would this kill the advertising industry? I sure hope so! I wouldn’t mind seeing all the advertisers and marketers on the breadlines instead of people who actually provide honest goods and services!

  8. Lee Dec. 3, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    It’s a start now on to commercials which seem as long as the programs
    7 mins of program and 6min of commercials On PAY tv what am I paying for
    while they are at it how about limits on commercials Like Geico no more than say 3 a day please And the self promos on Discovery history etc THERE outta be a LAW

  9. john Dec. 3, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    Swiffer Mop commercials are the loudest…

    But I agree with ???? – shouldn’t we be spending money to analyze how to create more jobs in the US? You know, the ones which were sent to US-East–otherwise known as India?

  10. bronellione Dec. 3, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    If you really think that the congress and the senate are wasting their time and your tax dollars on stuff like this, quit whinning about it on blogs that they will never see and write them a real letter. Snail Mail scare the hell out of them.

  11. StateStreetKid Dec. 3, 2010 at 8:17 pm

    Great these high volume commercials have been an absurd insult to the American public for decades!

  12. miracle617 Dec. 3, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    notice how long it really takes to go into effect??? YEARS !!!
    it should be a flip of the switch….thats our speedy government for ya

  13. sharko Dec. 3, 2010 at 11:33 pm

    If this law had been passed in Illinois, it would have been accompanied by a “Volume Modulation Tax.” To “cover the costs of enforcement.”

  14. Sharon Dec. 4, 2010 at 3:22 a.m.

    Hey GrumpyOldLady (me,too). You’re right about a law that was supposed to have been passed about 40-45 years ago in order to limit volume on TV commercials. I thought it had passed. Perhaps not. How about this? We let the companies whose commercials blast us out of the recliner know that we will no longer buy their products.

  15. bob Dec. 4, 2010 at 6:30 a.m.

    Is this all they have to do,to avoid the real problems in the US GOVERMENT.I thought there was going to be change when the democrates got booted out same old same old

  16. ColdWarVet Dec. 4, 2010 at 6:38 a.m.

    Hey Bob, the Dem’s were booted out, but they are still in office wasting time and money as usual until January.

  17. rod paulson Dec. 4, 2010 at 7:38 a.m.

    I boycott the advertisers, but this is even better. Just hope Obama mama doesn’t veto it…….

  18. HaurrikeHus Dec. 16, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    Evict in florida and tampa bay eviction. Come oon guys!

    Tampa Bay eviction