Congress acts to lower volume on blaring TV commercials
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would force the Federal Communications Commission to set new, lower volume standards for ads. The legislation, already passed by the Senate, goes to President Obama for his signature.
WASHINGTON — Congress has come to the aid of millions of Americans who find themselves reaching for a mute button to silence those loud television commercials.
"The problems with earsplitting TV advertisements have existed for more than 50 years. Not five, 50," said Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., who noted that her office has received many messages of support and that people approach her in restaurants and supermarkets to ask about the legislation. "Television advertisers first realized that consumers often left the room during commercials, so they used loud commercials to grab their attention as they moved to other parts of their home."
On a voice vote late Thursday, the House passed an Eshoo-sponsored bill that would force the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to set new, lower volume standards for ads. The legislation, already passed by the Senate, now goes to President Obama for his signature.
The new regulations, which apply to all broadcast providers, including cable and satellite, would go into effect a year after the FCC establishes new decibel levels. Ads won't be allowed to be louder than the loudest portions of the shows in which they're placed.
"Every American has likely experienced the frustration of abrasively loud television commercials," Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said when the Senate approved the measure 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."
Said Mark Cooper, director of research at the Consumer Federation of America: "It's not like the consumer has any choices. 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 on commercials, but the commission 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.
One reason commercials may sound louder is a sound-compression technique in which the difference between loud and soft sounds is compressed. The result: While peak sound levels of commercials and programs may not differ, the average levels of commercials are higher.
Consumers can buy volume regulators to adjust the sound, but consumer advocates say they shouldn't have to invest in more equipment.
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."
The broadcast advertising industry argued that the legislation was unnecessary because broadcasters could police themselves.
The HULA Media Exchange, a distributor of broadcast advertising, announced Thursday that local and network broadcasters and cable outlets automatically would start receiving advertising spots with lowered volume.
"We're really helping broadcasters and cable networks alleviate a growing problem, without any additional cost or equipment investment on their part," said Roger Cucci, the company's vice president of engineering.
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