FCC sets rules to 'calm' loud commercials

Rep. Anna Eshoo's CALM Act requires broadcasters to keep advertising volume down

Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill seldom see common ground these days, but just about everyone is supporting an effort by U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, to turn down the volume on those annoyingly loud television commercials.

The effort, which both the Senate and the House of Representatives overwhelmingly backed in late 2010, hit another milestone Tuesday (Dec. 13) when the Federal Communications Commission approved the final plans for implementing the CALM (Commercial Advertising Loudness Mitigation) Act. Authored by Eshoo, the law bars the volume on commercials to exceed the volume of regular programming.

Eshoo said she became aware of the problem of loud advertising the same way people across the country became aware of it -- while watching television.

"There was extraordinary loud advertising that came one and when I complained about it, my brother-in-law said, 'You're in the Congress. Why don't you do something about it?'"

Eshoo quickly learned that she wasn't alone in thinking the commercials are too loud.

"To my surprise what I found was that this was the top complaint of consumers across the country for the FCC for decades and no one paid any attention to it," Eshoo said.

Lawmakers shared the frustration of the masses. The Senate unanimously passed Eshoo's bill in September. It easily cleared the House in December 2010 and was signed into law by President Barack Obama later that month.

The CALM Act mandates that advertising volume not exceed the highest decibel level of regular programming. The act applies to television broadcast stations, cable operators and other distributors of multi-channel video programming. It requires the various broadcasters to comply with the law within a year.

Eshoo said in her conversations with stakeholders she was informed that technology makes it fairly easy for broadcasters to meet the CALM Act's requirements. Smaller stations that may have a hard time complying can seek a waiver from the FCC.

Eshoo, who is concluding her second decade in the U.S. Congress, said she has never written a bill that has been so popular and that has struck such a chord with so many consumers. Since the bill was introduced, she said, people have been stopping her at gas stations, restaurants and shops to express their support for the bill.

"They all tell me that same story about how maddening it is to be practically blasted out of your own home with the noise from the advertising," Eshoo said.

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Like this comment
Posted by tivo
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 13, 2011 at 9:24 pm

I bought a Tivo just to zap those annoying commercials. Now I don't care how loud and obnoxious there are.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 14, 2011 at 5:53 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Look for a canon firing just before the commercial.

Like this comment
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 14, 2011 at 8:41 am

I can't wait for this to go into effect! I can't stand commercials that force viewers to mute or half-mute the television while watching our favorite shows.

Like this comment
Posted by Its-Time-For-Her-To-Go
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 14, 2011 at 8:55 am

The crowning achievement of an otherwise undistinguished Congressional career.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 14, 2011 at 11:56 am

Manipulating the intensity and even the quality and type of sound is a rotten and dirty trick used by the media. A long time ago they had better sense than to do that, but now the rules for everything seem to be off, and new rules seems to be that it is admirable and clever to figure out ways to bother people and drive them crazy.

When I used to be a KGO listener they used to do a few things that really bothered me.

Before their traffic reports for some reason they would play recordings or loud horns honking at each other at loud volume. It was not a commercial so probably would not be covered by this law.

Also, commercials in addition to being loud would play sounds that grab your attention, such as warning sounds, sirens, telephones ... I just hated it. It's not like I could say I will not buy their products because none of the products I ever heard about on the radio would I be remotely interested in anyway. I often wonder who and what kind of people would be, but thats another subject.

The problem is regulation here. How can anyone really prove that on a certain day and time there was a commercial played that was too loud.

It's why I mostly listen to be PBS, where they never do anything obnoxious, except reporting the news with integrity ... which seems to be problematic for the right wing.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 15, 2011 at 1:09 am

Commercial advertising subsidizes our viewing and listening habits. Broadcasters can gauge when they are losing audience due to obnoxius or too frequent ads. We have a mature system that I expect is carefully managed to maximize revenues. Restrictions on advertising technique will shift costs somewhere, or impact content of the programs they subsidize. My point is that the CALM Act is a trade-off, not a win-win no brainer. Maybe down the road a few years someone will report on the unintended consequences.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 15, 2011 at 11:16 am

"Musical a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood" , are you proposing a linear relationship between the number of sales and the loudness and obnoxiouslness of an advertisement? If so, then all we have to do to solve the economic crisis is make ads louder, forcing more people to buy more products, raising demand and creating jobs. The Nobel Prize in economics is surely heading your way.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 15, 2011 at 11:22 am

If the advertisers tried to improve their commercials so that they were clever/entertaining/quirky, then we might want to pay attention to them as much as the shows we are watching. At present, commercials are such a turnoff for the most part.

Commercials don't have to be big budget to be clever, like some of the superbowl ones, but when people say they watch the superbowl just for the commercials, you get the idea.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 15, 2011 at 11:29 am

Come on, the whole commercial based culture is broken. Tune into a commercial radio station and half your time is lost on content other than what your tuned in for.

In terms of efficiency and productivity, this would be like sending someone to college where 1/3 their time was spend listening to commercials, they would never graduate, and when they did most of what they knew would be obsolete.

More and more commercials are pushed in front of our eyes and into our ears ... where is the limit. Our culture is based on these fad bubbles that as soon as something is discovered more and more of it is used to the saturation point and beyond. There is no moderation or regulation, and that is supposed to be a good thing.

All of these constant distractions make it more difficult for people to think, to process the events of their lives, in short, to be human beings. We are marching right into a robotic society, at the very time that there is no need for it because we have real robots.

Like this comment
Posted by Pearl
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 15, 2011 at 12:01 pm

"The crowning achievement of an otherwise undistinguished Congressional career. "

Sour grapes, much?

Obviously, a majority of your good neighbors disagree with that ridiculous thought. Ms. Eshoo is well loved in the area - just look at how any republican challenger gets trounced every two years.

Thank you, Ms Eshoo. Even though I gave my parents a Tivo, they still listen to commercials and grumble about the volume.

Now, if we can talk about that absurd "tax holiday" for off-shore corporate money sitting in tax shelters in the Caymans....

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 16, 2011 at 1:47 am

Yes, Anon, a linear relationship is my conjecture at the low end. It stands to reason that as the advertiser does less to attract attention, sales effectiveness will decline. Zero attention, zero results. As they ramp up intensity or other "rotten and dirty tricks used by the media", their presence gets registered by more of the listeners/viewers. But at some point the slope lessens, as some people begin to feel hostility toward the brand or just change the channel. Keep going and the curve rolls over in classic Laffer fashion, all the way to zero again when the entire audience leaves. The goal is that middle-ground maximum, finely tuned by trial and error and Harris polls, reaching the most people while sacrificing some number of the most easily offended.

Have the rules changed such that it's now "admirable and clever to figure out ways to bother people and drive them crazy"? Maybe it's the audience that has changed. Younger consumers are more inured to sensory onslaught.

And perhaps, Resident, commercials could be improved in other ways to merit our attention. However I suspect it's all been tried, given the billions spent in this industry, and the verdict apparently must be that loud and/or obnoxious is the most cost-effective for channels catering to the lowest common denominator.

I'm probably in trouble if any game theorists read this. Not my field, but time for me to look up "race to the bottom" in Wikipedia to remind myself why pure laissez faire does not work and regulation is necessary. Anon may find there a rational explanation for our broken commercial based culture.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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