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Senate Votes To Turn Down Volume On TV Commercials 625

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the dear-god-yes-please dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Ever since television caught on in the 1950s, the FCC has been getting complaints about blaring commercials but concluded in 1984 there was no fair way to write regulations controlling the 'apparent loudness' of commercials. Now the AP reports that the Senate has unanimously passed a bill to require television stations and cable companies to keep commercials at the same volume as the programs they interrupt using industry guidelines on how to process, measure and transmit audio in a uniform way. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), a co-sponsor, says it's time to stop the use of loud commercials to startle viewers into paying attention. 'TV viewers should be able to watch their favorite programs without fear of losing their hearing when the show goes to a commercial.' The House has already passed similar legislation, so before the new measure becomes law, minor differences between the two versions have to be worked out when Congress returns to Washington after the November 2 election."
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Senate Votes To Turn Down Volume On TV Commercials

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 01, 2010 @10:03AM (#33758220)

    So AC.. I've often wondered if it was worth putting a studio grade audio compressor into the audio chain. Anyone ever try this?

  • by howlatthemoon (718490) on Friday October 01, 2010 @10:04AM (#33758242)
    I would like a rule that requires political ads to be played a significantly lower level than programming. A person can dream, can't they?
  • No, it is practical (Score:5, Interesting)

    by drumcat (1659893) on Friday October 01, 2010 @10:14AM (#33758388)
    Umm... how about Root Mean Square calculation? I use it all the time. I have to master audio and the funny thing is unlike Creed & Nickelback, I care about not just peaks, but overall sound. It can be done.
  • Re:Tivo? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by geminidomino (614729) on Friday October 01, 2010 @10:19AM (#33758482) Journal

    I don't know about Tivo specifically, but MythTV has a couple of methods that, AFAIK, don't have anything to do with volume.

    From []

    # Blank Frame Detection - Is used to determine when a programme fades to black (this invariably happens between show segments)
    # Blank Frame & scene change detection - As above but tries to determine that a large amount of the picture has changed
    # Scene change detection - Tries to determine that a large amount of the picture has changed
    # Logo detection - Looks for a part of the picture that does not change during a recorded show - i.e. an onscreen logo. Logos are usually removed for the duration of commercial breaks, making them 'easier' to spot.

  • by BobMcD (601576) on Friday October 01, 2010 @10:19AM (#33758486)

    Magnavox TV's used to do this, if I recall correctly. I tried to find something similar for my Myth setup, but never did. Did that idea just fade away?

  • by GarryFre (886347) on Friday October 01, 2010 @10:22AM (#33758518) Homepage
    I had severe insomnia - I even almost died of it - Yes you can! Anyway I would have the TV on so I could have something to focus on and I remember commercials especially from Billy Mays that would startle me so badly it felt like I came near to breaking a bone. Subjecting me to a sudden auditory explosion is enough to get me pissed off enough that I will black list the product. There are so many brands of each product, I don't have to buy theirs. They have been claiming the commercials are not louder than legal for years, yet one time I could NOT hear this show, so I started to reach for the control to turn up the volume. Suddenly a commercial came on so loud that it blew the speakers - smoke poured out. I remember getting into it with trolls here who said the commercials were not any louder it was just a perception caused by the average loudness being higher. Now they are acknowledging that they are louder? Seems news sources have a bit of trouble "Making up their minds". I guess it's a matter of perception. Startle me and you piss me off.
  • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Friday October 01, 2010 @10:25AM (#33758562) Journal

    >>>different volumes could be selected for different situations.

    Well since nobody's invented what I will call "consumer-variable sound adjustment", I devised a different solution: I just mute everything (except scifi which has cool AFX) and read the subtitles to follow the dialogue, while listening to the commercial-free radio in the background.

  • by LiquidLink57 (1864484) on Friday October 01, 2010 @10:26AM (#33758574)
    From the general feel of the comments so far, it looks like my opinion will be pretty unpopular, which makes me a bit scared to post this, but I really don't like this law.

    Things can sound like a good idea on paper, and often have positive intentions, but when you make a law out of every good idea it can create problems. Every law we make takes away just a little of our freedom (in many cases, a lot). Make murder against the law, I lose the freedom to murder you, and vice versa. That's well worth the cost. But all the little laws like this stack up.

    I mean in this case, sure, having a commercial that's loud could inconvenience people, maybe annoy people. And I'm sure it'll make a lot of people happy to not have to deal with it. But as Americans, we don't have a right to not be inconvenienced, to not be annoyed. Of course quieter commercials isn't a really a big deal to us. Maybe it will be more "pleasant." But having a loud commercial be a crime? Really?

    Usually when someone says, "You know, there oughta be a law," there shouldn't be.
  • Volume Limiter (Score:2, Interesting)

    by TooLazyToLogon (248807) on Friday October 01, 2010 @10:28AM (#33758604)

    Just run your TV sound out through a volume limiter. Turn the TV volume up to a higher level that you are comfortable with during regular programing, Then turn the volume limiter to a comfortable level. Commercials won't be able to go above that volume.

  • Re:Uncharacteristic: (Score:5, Interesting)

    by elrous0 (869638) * on Friday October 01, 2010 @10:29AM (#33758608)
    This has always been a problem, but lately it seems to have gotten completely out of hand. To get decent mid-range sound on my HDTV channels (which have a broad dynamic range), I have to turn them up pretty high. When the commercials come on, they're so much louder than the shows that they come damn close to damaging my speakers. Even though I have a DVR and try to avoid them altogether, I still have to put up with these commercials on occasion, and I'm tired of jumping for the mute button before some McDonald's ad blows out my goddamned speakers.
  • by JWSmythe (446288) <(moc.ehtymswj) (ta) (ehtymswj)> on Friday October 01, 2010 @10:31AM (#33758664) Homepage Journal

        You make it sound like it's impractical. Well, I guess because you said so. I've had receivers which do audio normalization (or dynamic range control), which work very well in home theaters. You don't have to screw around with the volume so you can hear someone whispering in one scene, and then turn it down for the next loud scene. I was really spoiled after watching TV and movies exclusively in my home theater for about a year. I pretty much had two settings for the audio. One was for normal TV and general movies. The other was for action movies (about 10% louder). When I added a TV in another room, it really threw me that the volume changed so significantly. I had to sit there with the remote in my hand, so I could turn up quiet scenes, and turn down loud scenes. It was very distracting.

        Really, it's not state of the art technology. It's been around for a while. There isn't really a reason that the broadcast station can't set a normalization threshold, other than the fact that they may need to spend a bit of cash to make it happen. But, it's not in the best interest of the stations. They're being paid to allow the ads through that are over volume, regardless of the comfort (or annoyance) of the viewers.

  • by zero_out (1705074) on Friday October 01, 2010 @10:32AM (#33758676)

    It can definitely be done. In fact, about 6 years ago I was tasked with designing and coding an automatic volume control based on ambient room noise. It was not easy, believe me, but using Root Mean Square, I was able to get it to work. This ensured that the device would either be louder than the ambient sound if you wanted to use it as a public announcement system, such as in a school, or provide background music that didn't drown out conversation. The hardest part was determining the sample buffer. Do you adjust the volume based on the last second of ambient sound? The last 10 seconds? The last minute? It took some tweaking, but an optimal sample buffer was found.

    Now, for a TV show, that is a bit easier. Simply get an RMS of the show before airing it, as well as the peak volume, do the same for each commercial, and adjust the commercial volume accordingly. It's not a difficult problem at all. In fact, I could probably write an application to do it all automatically within a week or two, but no more than a month. It would take sound stream input, sample the entire stream from beginning to end, then determine a relative volume for each one.

    The problem hasn't been a technical one for over a decade. It's been a political one.

  • by Ironhandx (1762146) on Friday October 01, 2010 @10:35AM (#33758718)

    Its pretty easy, everything I have in my home theaters run through a Creative x-fi sound card to get "cleaned" before it actually goes to any speakers/stereo head. I can muck with all of the settings to get exactly the sound levels I want and it prevents the commercials from suddenly deafening me.

    It actually fixes the MS error sound too.

  • by ISurfTooMuch (1010305) on Friday October 01, 2010 @11:28AM (#33759500)

    While I think there are more important things that Congress ought to be doing, the advertisers have only themselves to blame. They've known for decades that loud commercials piss people off, they've been told over and over that they should stop this practice, yet they've ignored all of this.

    And some of the blame can also be laid at the feet of the local TV stations and cable systems, whose commercials can air at much higher volume than the network feed they're inserted into because someone is too lazy to adjust the fucking levels properly. Is it so damn hard to fix your equipment so that, when I have the volume set to enjoy "Mythbusters" at a moderate sound level, the ad for Billy Bob's Gently Used Washing Machine Emporium doesn't set off car alarms three blocks away?

    And, while we're at it, can we do something about businesses that insist on using little kids in their ads, apparently in the belief that cute kids drive up sales? There's a local furniture store here that uses the owner's kids in every single ad. Those kids should sue the guy for child exploitation. And does anyone else find this practice as nausiating as I do? If you're going to show me an ad, just cut to the chase and tell me about how much I can buy a decent couch for and leave your kids at home where they belong.

  • by Bobfrankly1 (1043848) on Friday October 01, 2010 @11:32AM (#33759586)

    The point is that now it will be the same volume measured by *average level*. So one big explosion in CSI doesn't give the advertisers card blanche to blast their ads at you.

    That's right, it takes two!

1 Billion dollars of budget deficit = 1 Gramm-Rudman