Saturday, December 17, 2011

FCC puts a stop to loud commercials (yeah, right)

The FCC earlier this week passed a law requiring broadcasters and Pay TV distributors to air commercials at the same volume as regular programming.  No longer can they jack up the volume during commercials.  It will take a year for this law to be fully implemented (why, I don't know.  How long does it take to turn a knob down?)

How fucking stupid are commercial makers?   Do they think we don't know that their spots come on and almost blow us out of the room?   What happens is this:  we dive for the remote.    And when we already have the remote in our hand we then fast forward through the commercial -- a commercial we might have sat through had it not been so loud and piercing.

Advertisers have to make the commercials MORE appealing to us, not less.  Especially now when it is so easy to bypass them.

Of course, here's the upshot:  there will be no way to actually monitor whether commercials are aired at a consistent level.   But distributors are off the hook if they can certify that they're complying with the rules.   So of course the law is a joke.

Hand me the remote.

33 comments:

Blaze said...

I roll my eyes at how the commentary implies it's a concern of relatively recent vintage. Something that is a part of cable packages in the 21st century.

My memory flashes on an issue of Mad Magazine. A cartoon inside satirizes this volume change annoyance. The thing is, this issue of Mad is from the 1960s. Remotes essentially did not exist. Obviously advertisers back in that day knew they had the viewer by the short and curlies. Nobody would lumber out of their easy chair to change the volume for a couple of minutes (remember when commercials only lasted a couple of minutes?), so they could hard sell scream their product at whim.

As you say, it's amazing that they still think they can get away with that. A flick of the thumb and their screaming shill artist is gone. I haven't really watched a commercial since my first VCR

Naz said...

I also mute commericals if they repeat their business name 8 times in one commerical. That also goes for when they repeat their phone number over and over and over again. Ahhh the power of the mute button.

Matt Patton said...

We don't have a DVR, so my mom just pushes the 'mute" button during commercials (usually after she's been knocked off the sofa by the volume). But as with people who FF with their DVR's, the result is the same--we ignore commercials we might otherwise listen to.

There are commercials we do listen to--almost all for insurance. The Geico and Farmers ads because they're funny J. K. Simmons ins't just on The Closer and endless re-runs of Law and Order and a voice on American Dad, he's on the ads as well now. This, I believe is the definition of "ubiquitous" in Hollywood. And then the Allstate ads because my mother has a positively teenaged crush on Dennis Haysbert, which she's had ever since my late niece ran us through about three seasons worth of DVD's of 24. She didn't blush and giggle over my father this way . . .

Johnny Walker said...

It's sad to see this trend still continues, but it's heartening that it's now against the law. As for not being possible to assess... that's a bit strange, because it would be very easy to assess through automatic monitoring -- if they had the right equipment. I guess nobody wants to spend the money...

Brian Phillips said...

GreaBUY PEPSI!!!t article, Ken.

James Fancher said...

This law - passed by Congress - they obviously have not much else to worry about - in 2010 is called the CALM act. It is the result of years of research and testing by industry and educational institutions to provide an objective means of measuring loudness. Believe it or not this is a hard problem as what sounds "loud" to you cannot be easily measured.
The industry is busy complying with this new standard and automated equipment is being installed in most head ends to knock loudness levels down to acceptable levels. One of the key problems is perception and in analyzing hundreds of TV shows it has been proven that in many cases the apparent loudness of a program tends to go down just before the commercial break. This causes the viewer to perceive that the commercial is louder, even when by all objective measurements it is not. I include the wikipedia URL as I am not sure how to embed it in this comment. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commercial_Advertisement_Loudness_Mitigation_Act

Phillip B said...

I'd argue that commercials are actually less intrusive that in "golden age of television" especially when the sponsors owned the shows. Writers for George Burns and Jack Benny were forced to write them into the plot of the show -- that would have been a real challenge on MASH.

Procter and Gamble are just now realizing that producing day time television is not the best use of their advertising dollars - and pulling the plug on the "soaps."

Kids show were particularly shameless until the FCC stepped in around the early 60s. Anyone of a certain age remembers the many things that kids were supposed to tell their parents.

Johnny Carson was the first host of the Tonight Show to refuse to do live commercials as part of the show, greatly expanding Ed McMahon's career as a pitchman. But various late night hosts did them as recently as a few years ago.

You probably do the ones which I find most annoying - copy dropped into the banter of sports play by play. OK when "this call to the bullpen is sponsored by T-Mobile" but much more awkward on minor league broadcasts sponsored by the local funeral home...

Anonymous said...

I love the Mayhem Allstate commercials. The geiko ads are getting a bit old, but still cute. I used to like the Aflac duck until I noticed they raised the volume only on his quacking "Aflac". If they would work a little harder (it isn't always necessary to spend a lot of money) and be just a tad more creative, we might watch the commercials.

Maybe noext they will to work on the volume of explosions in movies. The dialog on some of these movies is so low you can barely hear it...then the car blows up and you can't hear for an hour after. Ridiculous.

Pam aka SisterZip

Brad Preston said...

If the FCC really wants to do something useful, they should put a limit on the amount of commercials over-the-air stations are allowed to run in a given hour. It really has gotten out-of-hand in the last 30 years: an uncut episode of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" is about 26 minutes without commercials, but an episode of "Modern Family" is around 20-21 minutes.

Not only is the ever-growing commercial break making modern TV shows much shorter than their 40-year-old counterparts; it's also causing rebroadcasts of older programming to be mercilessly butchered. Did anyone see ABC's broadcast of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" a few weeks ago? Jesus...

Ken, as a writer, how do you feel when you see an episode of "Cheers" or "M*A*S*H" you've written with 3-4 minutes excised for syndication?

Dan Tedson said...

sunday. sunday. sunday.

Just not the same.

MikeBo said...

Back in my VCR heyday, I began to notice that when I fast-forwarded the commercials some of them made as much sense message-wise as the versions played at normal speed. it made me think the ad geniuses realized they had to reach two speeds of audience - normal and fast forward - and still make sense.

The noise rememdy is easy - an AGC (automatic gain control device) which will equalize the volume in a millisecond.

Another cable system atrocity is the "pop-up" Internet spot. Click on an interesting web site and up pops the local used car dealer at full volume. Just what you need at 4 a.m. when your trying to check your e-mail after that nocturnal trip to the bathroom.

50 is the new 35 said...

Even DURING the actual programs, I find that the volume level seems to vary widely. It's extremely annoying to have the volume set to a level at which I can actually follow dialogue in one scene without having to try to read the characters' lips, only to have to dive for the remote during the next scene because it is exponentially - and unnecessarily - louder.

With regard to the fast-forwarding issue ...

I've noticed that an increasing number of shows that are available on ON DEMAND now have been jury-rigged so that it's not possible to FF through the commercials. They even have a little message that pops up at the start of the show to give the viewer a heads-up. (Yet for some reason the message makes a point of saying that the commercials have already been aired during the actual broadcast.) So now I find myself hitting the mute button during ON DEMAND viewings as well as during programs I watch in real time, and using the time to tackle more "productive" pursuits.

I seem to have segued into a potential Friday question here:

Ken, do you know how ratings for time-shifted viewing (ON DEMAND, DVR, HULU, etc) are currently calculated and folded into ratings for real-time viewing? Are these methods the same whether a program is a first-run show versus something (like CHEERS or MASH) that's been running for years in syndication?

What's your take on including time-shifted viewing in figuring out ratings (and rates for commercial spots) - is it "fair" to include metrics for time-shifted viewership, given that it's easier to bypass the commercial spots during time-shifted viewing in most instances?

Or has the era of calculating/defining "ratings" as we know them run its course? If so, how would you suggest that rates for commercial time be determined?

i could be a bob said...

Commercials have narration, some dialogue and music. Sometimes sound effects. Unless there's an explosion on H50 before a commercial, any commercial that comes on after some sitcom (dialogue /laugh-track/ played off with music button) or drama, (say, where two lawyers trade jabs) ANY video that comes after that will sound louder.

If a scene is well-mixed, and it's a tv show telling a story, your ear is concentrating on dialogue. Any break of noise will be perceived as an annoyance.

In advertising (my old job) being noticed is not a bad thing, so for the commercial-makers this is probably a bummer.

I think movie previews might be the worst since they're jamming lots of crap into 30 seconds. And those people are trying to get you off your couch, for real and metaphorically, so you'll go to the nearest multi-plex.

Not a tv commerical issue but- A friend of mine who worked in a movie theater back in the 90s told me someone actually sued his theater for playing the movie trailers "too loud." They took in a db meter and measured it, and it was louder than what the local noise ordinance was. My guess is there was a lawsuit. OR free popcorn.

benson said...

Not to get technical here, but don't broadcaster (and cable channels) process the audio already. If you're running all your audio through a compressor, it should sound relatively the same, no?

@dan tedson One of funniest things I ever heard was a drag racing commercial done with two women. Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!

Doktor Frank Doe said...

Ahhhhh, Corporate Greed coupled with arrogance and the belief that we're too stupid to notice. NOT just the volume on commercials, but the increasing number of them as well. The penetration ratio is reaching a full third, currently on a lot of programming I've calculated it at 30.4% on many shows. It's five minutes commercials and seven minutes content, then back to five more minutes of commercialized horse-shit as the cycle repeats itself for two to three mind-numbing hours.

What was it Ken? 58+ studios in 1998 down to eleven or so now? All due to Corporate collusion, (mergers and acquisitions) The decrease in studios signifies the increase of control in the quality and scope of the final product.

TVland was once a bastion of relief from the commercialized crap, but has become one more feather of Corporate crap. METv is incredible (Where available) and co-sponsored by an existing television station.

The greed though has produced one good quality that provides relief. DVD sales of mostly cable-channel productions of quality, sans the fucking commercialism. With the short seasons, waiting out the DVD releases really doesn't put you that far behind in the current story lines. There's also an increasing number of streaming options.
Commercialism is aggressive and passive and relentless and I for one am retiring from the input, I've about had enough. Even Youtube was pumping me full of one TV quality thirty-second spot for every even minutes of a one hour video. WTF?

I'm personally Done with the Commercials and I mean beyond the DVR answer.
I'm also done with Bundled Butt-fuckings from Comcast, Cox, Time Warner, Direct TV and Dish.

Network news is nothing but propagandized personal agendas by the Corporate Elite, so there's no point in having it TV at all (according to me). So, I'll watch exactly what I want to watch, and nothing more and I'll get it through a $30.00 DSL connection, there will be NO TV at all, I'll rent and stream and watch online what I want and do with a mere FRACTION of the broadcast, pre-packaged bullshit that comes with bundles and 21st century television. No more home phone, it's pointless anyway with a Cell and happiness will abound! Easy, Breezy and a hell of a lot less Wheezy.

Fuck 'em all, I think I'll go back to reading more too!

I'll let you know how well this works out...

jbryant said...

Don't know if it's true, but I've always heard that the peak decibel level allowed for both programming and commercials is the same -- it's just that the commercials hit that peak more often and therefore seem relentlessly loud compared to the programming.

Paul Duca said...

Ken, it's TV-related...a friend found this documentary about 16-year-olds from when you were 16 years old, and it might be something to compare to your recollections of life then.


http://vimeo.com/12658300

Cap'n Bob said...

Billy Mays must be spinning in his grave.

My local cable station has a music channel with 30-40 different styles of music available. I just listen to the oldies while some liar tells the world about his product or service. Although, I don't mind watching the T-Mobile babe at all.

Cap'n Bob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ron said...

"Pay TV" that phrase reminds me of 50s & 60s when theaters lobbied against pay TV and had posters against it in the lobbies.

Matt Patton said...

Phillip B: The FCC must have stepped in closer to the end of the 1960's, because when I was a little kid in Cincinnati in the 1960's, there was one local kids show that was stuffed with ads for regional brands of potato chips, soft drinks, and kids' shoes. I remember being annoyed even at the time (I was about three or four). But they also showed Bugs Bunny cartoons, and I could survive the commercials as long as I got a fix of Bugs besting Elmer and Daffy and Wile E. Coyote falling off a cliff without sustaining serious bodily injury . . .

Barry Traylor said...

I think the radio show Fibber McGee and Molly had the funniest commercials as they were integrated into the show when a spokesman for Johnson's Wax called Harlow Wilcox came in bugging Fibber.

januaryfire said...

Volume for commercials doesn't bother me so much as I usually use the mute button. The problem I have is so many actors basically mumble causing me to up the volume during dialogue. Then, the music transitions or action scenes blast so loud I'm constantly using the up/down volume button throughout the whole show. Something like "Burn Notice" is especially guilty of this.

Greg Ehrbar said...

We've just finished watching the first season of Saturday Night Live (then called NBC's Saturday Night) on DVD and I had completely forgotten that, in roughly the first half of the season, the cast -- and sometimes the guest star -- did live commercials for the Polaroid SX-70 camera. At first they seem like parodies but they're done mostly straight. These seem very odd today.

Mike said...

Noone bothered that this is none of the government's business? Free speech doesn't matter here?

jbryant said...

Mike: I wouldn't think that decibel level is considered an aspect of speech. For it to be a free speech issue, wouldn't content have to be restricted?

Anonymous said...

What actually (I believe) is happening isn't so often that it is louder, it is that the signal is compressed, which means they "squash" the peaks, but also bring UP the valleys (the quite parts get louder. They do this on radio all the time for the DJ's, and it is why you can so easily hear them breathing in and out while talking...it squashes the signal) but THEN they raise the whole thing since it is squashed it won't "peak" and the perception is it is louder.
They do this also with CD's and mp3's for years now, a trend that loses dynamics, and the goal was to make each song SEEM louder than it is.
So, first you squash the signal, then RAISE it but it seems a lot louder because all noises then are the same.

Matt said...

I've thought of putting a compressor/limiter on my DVR's audio output.

Amplitude Dude said...

Yes, it's a just an issue of compression/limiting. Spots are usually processed more than TV shows or theatrical movies (which have next to zero processing). So, when the commercial comes on, it appears louder, even though the peaks are the same. With TV spots, you're dealing with audio from all kinds of different sources. Some will be processed more than others. It's tough keeping average levels consistent. Even harder with cable, when you're dealing with local cutaways. There's limiting at the broadcasting transmitter, but it's very light, just to keep the modulation legal.

Marconi said...

Firstly, who in their right mind watches TV commercials? With the exception of sports I DVR everything, skipping spots at lightning speed.

Secondly all this concern over volume isn’t, for the most part, the fault of advertisers. It’s poor audio processing mostly on the cable side. There are plenty of devices that even out the audio levels it’s just your local cable operator resisting that baby step into the 21st century.

William C Bonner said...

One of the things not mentioned in the loudness debate is how the sound is spread among the channels.

Current ATSC over the air TV can be broadcast in 5.1 digital sound, and that's what most prime time shows do.

What happens to the perceived loudness if you switch so that all of the sound is coming from the rear speakers? How about evenly from all 5 speakers? How about pumping up the bass channel so that you get some good vibrations?

How any of this works if your digital TV receiver is pumped into a single speaker? (Does anyone still have a non-stereo TV they are using?)

Jay Lo said...

Thanks to the new CALM act the FCC will be putting an end to loud TV ads. I think it's overdue the FCC working to resolve all the loud commercials. The FCC is not the only one to step up and fix this issue. I like that I was able to use the Hopper from DISH as a demo yesterday with my coworkers. This has built in TruVolume technology to fix them annoying volume fluctuations from commercials. This is great news to be able to record three things at the same time! This will make all of the hard choices go away when trying to decide which show to watch. I like that this will record all four networks every night with the Prime Time Anytime feature. I can watch a DVR recording from any TV as well as manage the DVR options. I can’t wait to add this to my employee service from DISH to get the best in house experience ever.

Ann Palmer said...

When I was a producer for Erwin-Wasey Ad Agency - a 30 minute show was allowed 3 minutes of commercials and 27 content...NOW, it is seemingly reversed on some soaps, especially "Bold and Beautiful" - I have tried to count commericals but I know they are WAY OVER 3 minutes!! Ann Palmer