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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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  • It's almost as if (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tekrat (242117) on Friday October 01, 2010 @10:03AM (#33758218) Homepage Journal

    Congress was working for the people... Is this some kind of sick joke meant to lull us into thinking that every congressman isn't in the pockets of big business? Hrrrmm. It's getting near election time, that must be it...

    • by davegravy (1019182) on Friday October 01, 2010 @10:18AM (#33758458)

      If the government and powerful corporate higher-ups weren't impacted by the volume issue the same as the rest of us, we wouldn't be seeing this bill. I'm surprised they didn't conceive some way to fix the problem only for themselves.

      • by hedwards (940851) on Friday October 01, 2010 @10:26AM (#33758588)
        Indeed, kind of interesting how the don't call list was engineered to mysteriously not apply to them, same goes for the ban on robocalls. Oddly enough, politicians were among the worst offenders during election season.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Shagg (99693)

          Does the commercial volume bill apply to campaign commercials? I'd bet there's an exception in there somewhere too.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by andymadigan (792996)
      The networks should have started doing this a decade ago before people got DVRs. Commercials are so loud you *have* to turn down the volume, so why not just fast forward past it instead? Marketing jerks preferred to annoy customers and claim they got more attention out of it, now DVRs are killing them. So much for self-regulation. This bill is a bit late, but it will still be nice to have if it happens.
  • Bit Mental (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mike Mentalist (544984) on Friday October 01, 2010 @10:03AM (#33758228) Homepage
    Does this sort of thing really need to have the law getting involved? It's only a small irritant.

    Is it a bit of deflection from the real issues that are going on at the moment?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jra (5600)

      Certainly, this is grandstanding. Just like 75% of what comes off the hill.

    • Re:Bit Mental (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 01, 2010 @10:15AM (#33758404)

      Does this sort of thing really need to have the law getting involved? It's only a small irritant.

      Is it a bit of deflection from the real issues that are going on at the moment?

      I was going to try to write this preemptively, but slashdot idiocy prevails...

      A) This is a problem, and potentially a safety issue as well. As more and more people use (ear|head)(buds|phones), the insane relative loudness will certainly contribute to very premature hearing loss. (Ever watch 24, the commercials were easily 20+ dBa louder than the program; if 75 dBa is comfortable, abruptly switching to 95 dBa is startling at least, and likely damaging, even for the brief period prior to hitting mute or fast-forward).

      B) The industry has had decades to regulate itself; the government has so far exercised uncharacteristic restraint (something slashdotters are quick to bemoan) in legislating a fix.

    • Re:Bit Mental (Score:4, Insightful)

      by somersault (912633) on Friday October 01, 2010 @10:19AM (#33758478) Homepage Journal

      A small irritant? Would you like it if your desktop sound effects were far louder than your gaming volume, so every time an alert popped up it scared the hell out of you? That would get old pretty fast. Or how about if the indicators in your car were louder than the radio? Or everyone in the world sounded like Darth Vader when they breathed? Okay that might be cool, but nevertheless.. I can imagine the commercial thing would be very annoying, if I actually watched them.

    • by delinear (991444)
      I'm not sure - people have been complaining about this pretty much since day one of televised commercials (and perhaps for radio commercials even before that) and still the industry has refused to play fair (even though I'm highly dubious about whether this tactic even works - I always change channel for commercials now, primarily for this reason, I have very sensitive hearing and I have the TV at just the right volume for the programming, rather than risk being blasted I channel surf, if the volume was nor
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by alta (1263)

      Are you kidding, this is what Politicians think they are PAID TO DO. THIS IS THEIR JOB. /sarcasm

      Look at it this way, say the US was suddenly PERFECT and everyone was COMPLETELY HAPPY with it. We've even mitigated Acts of God, disease, cancer and HIV. Absolutely perfect for everyone, but we still had a bunch of reps, a prez, etc...

      Seeing that our country is PERFECT, then they should have nothing to do. Right? They should just sit around and not create any bills, not put any restrictions on people, life wo

  • 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?
  • Isn't the increase in volume how Tivo know what are commercials to skip them? If so, isn't this what advertisers would want to do anyways?
    • I believe the newer TiVo sets lack the commercial skipping functionality. I may be wrong about this, I don't own a TiVo.
    • I thought that a similar law giving a maximum volume limit on commercials was already in place - the problem being that commercials generally always play at maximum volume while regular tv programs fluctuate between high and low volume.
    • by tedgyz (515156) *

      No. I believe there are signature codes embedded in the audio and/or video signal that help local stations detect commercial blocks.

    • 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 http://www.mythtv.org/wiki/Commercial_Detection [mythtv.org]

      # 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.

  • At least in the DC area ... are the local PBS stations. I'm not sure which one it is, but there's one that makes me almost jump out of my skin when the show ends, and they go to commercial.

    Hopefully the legislation doesn't actually include the term 'interrupting' in the volume limits, or the commercials in between shows (like all of the ones on PBS) will be exempt.

    • by wjousts (1529427)
      PBS might be except anyway because they are not technically commercials.
  • Smart Sound (Score:5, Informative)

    by snspdaarf (1314399) on Friday October 01, 2010 @10:09AM (#33758304)
    I have an old Magnavox TV with smart sound. Loud commercials are not a problem for me.
    • Re:Smart Sound (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 01, 2010 @10:17AM (#33758448)

      I torrent everything I watch. Commercials are not a problem for me.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Duradin (1261418)

        And if everyone torrents everything they watch having new things to torrent wouldn't be a problem either, since there wouldn't be any.

        It's like the people who won't get their kids vaccinated because they know about herd immunity. Get enough freeloaders and it stops working.

        So for the remaining people who do watch TV they need to make the commercials even more attention grabbing to compensate, making them even more annoying. So hats off to you, freeloading AC, for making commercials even more annoying.

    • by Rogerborg (306625)

      Uh, yes, my super-cheap-ass no-name LCD has Automatic Volume Levelling. It's hardly rocket science.

      The other thing is: who the fsck listens to adverts anyway? I've been reflexively muting them for as long as TVs have had remotes (HEY YOU KIDS, etc). Now that I'm DVR'd up, I don't even have to do that, since I'm just going to skip straight from content-to-content anyway.

      So yay to Congress for finally legislating a solution to a problem that we've already solved ourselves.

  • by DirtyCanuck (1529753) on Friday October 01, 2010 @10:10AM (#33758316)

    Hi Billy Mays here for the Commercial Kill.
    Sick of commercials blaring and waking up your hooker in the middle of the night?
    Using the power of the internet we can eliminate loud obnoxious commercials for your viewing pleasure.

    Note: Commercials only removed from pirated material. Non Pirated material will be subject to EVEN LOUDER commercials that conveniently have the volume control disabled during duration.

  • Of all the things that started out in the good ol' US of A, this is second only to the lightning rod in "things that need to reach global acceptance".

  • by hsmith (818216) on Friday October 01, 2010 @10:11AM (#33758336)
    They can't pass a fucking budget, the ONE THING we need them to do, but they can legislate tv volume. Awesome.
    • by nedlohs (1335013) on Friday October 01, 2010 @10:21AM (#33758512)

      Surprise surprise, things that don't really matter are easier to come to agreement on than things that are considered important and on which very different opinions are held.

      Amazing!

    • by inKubus (199753) on Friday October 01, 2010 @10:26AM (#33758576) Homepage Journal

      Yeah, thank god. I'm glad I can spend the time I would have spent clicking the mute button on my remote.........sitting in front of the TV anyway. It's a great day for freedom people. We need to mark this with a special 4chan-style holiday, National Commercial Volume Law Day, where teenagers traditionally secretly turn up the volume of every television and stereo they can find and then mute it causing the next user to be reminded of the glorious freedom of America.

  • Uncharacteristic: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by boneclinkz (1284458) on Friday October 01, 2010 @10:11AM (#33758338)
    Normally I'm pretty apathetic about political nonsense, but something about this story enrages me. This is just so unbelievably frivolous, but it sure will play well to the average voter who probably watches 40 hours of television a week and strongly agrees with the statement that "TV viewers should be able to watch their favorite programs without fear of losing their hearing when the show goes to a commercial."

    It's not that I'm especially fond of advertisers, it's just that I have trouble acknowledging a world where ANYBODY GIVES A FUCK about this "issue".
    • by spiffmastercow (1001386) on Friday October 01, 2010 @10:22AM (#33758520)
      Obviously you don't have children. When you spend 2 hours trying to get your kid to sleep, and then turn on your favorite show while you finally have some down time, the last thing you want is Billy Mays waking your kid up before you can mute the TV.
    • 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.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        summed up as: we have more dynamic range now (with HD) and so the content we care about can be sitting at, say, 20 or more dB down from normal and then the commercial comes on normalized to peak at 0dB (or clip; probably clip and clip a lot).

        when they used a lot of compression for audio (10 or 20 yrs ago) this was less of a problem. now the audio comes thru digitally and that's 90+ dB of range they can fuck with. they can bury content way way down so that we turn our volume controls up to hear the main sh

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by frizop (831236)
      I give a huge fuck about this issue and I only watch a few hours of tv a week.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Really? Loud commercials are a huge pet peeve of me, and I'm sure many others. The media companies do it on purpose (especially any channels from Turner Broadcasting). And their excuse why they wouldn't be able to comply with the law is so laughable that it's insulting. They would have us believe that the technology doesn't exist or is prohibitively expensive/complex to design a circuit to detect and attenuate loud signals. Huh?

      Advertisers want to be as annoying as possible to get your attention. If
  • You mean that still exists? I thought it was replaced by internet streaming!!
  • IIRC, our Phillips Magnavox large screen CRT TV had a "Smart Sound" feature that basically just normalized the volume all the time. I have to say it worked pretty well. I'd always notice watching TV at someone elses house that some ads played REALLY loud compared to the program. We had that TV from about the mid 90's I think.

    Why don't more TVs have it? (rather, I know "cost" is probably the main reason, but it should be a good enough feature to be fairly standard today, you'd think)
  • Ban the use of sirens in radio commercials to get attention. I don't know how many times I heard one in a commercial and the natural reaction is to start looking for the ambulance or fire truck or police car.
    • Amen, brother! Around here, the worst offender of this is the local police department Crimestoppers ads.
    • This tends to correct itself. This was tried a couple years ago and it's use has died out. Research showed the moment someone heard the commercial siren, they automatically tuned out the commercial and gave attention to the road looking for the emergency vehicle and most often did not even register the commercial message. When the source was identified as the radio, the most often response was to turn it off and continue to see if there was a real siren in the area. I have not heard a siren in a commerci

  • by tedgyz (515156) *

    I can't hear you over the commercial.

    Seriously - this should be easy for sound engineers.

  • Rest Easy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by smitty777 (1612557) on Friday October 01, 2010 @10:14AM (#33758394) Journal

    Now I can rest easy, knowing that the folks in charge are focusing on the really important matters. It was just last night, I was jolted out of a nap in front of some program on global warming or something by an ad for American Idol...

  • if only there were also fewer of those commercials :/
  • HI (Score:3, Funny)

    by ghee22 (781277) on Friday October 01, 2010 @10:18AM (#33758454)
    billy mays here. would you mind turning up the volume?
  • by gblackwo (1087063) on Friday October 01, 2010 @10:18AM (#33758464) Homepage
    I already dropped cable for dsl, netflix, hulu and hd over the air. I am 22, not only does my generation not need landlines, but we don't need cable either.
  • 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?

  • Only $2150.00 [musiciansfriend.com] to do it yourself.

  • 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 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.
    • by mcgrew (92797) * on Friday October 01, 2010 @04:22PM (#33764468) Homepage Journal

      From the general feel of the comments so far, it looks like my opinion will be pretty unpopular

      If by "unpopular" you mean "illogical", then you're right. Your argument makes no sense at all.

      when you make a law out of every good idea it can create problems

      Only if the law is badly written or unevenly enforced, or the idea merely seems to be a good one as many bad ideas often are.

      Every law we make takes away just a little of our freedom. Make murder against the law, I lose the freedom to murder you

      No, it only tales away anarchy. You do NOT have the freedom to murder. Your freedoms end where mine begin, and that's how it should be. You should NOT be "free" to break into my house and deprive me of my freedom of privacy. You should not be free to take my belongings and deprive me of my property rights. My privacy and property are my freedoms. You and nobody else have the right to deprive me of my rights.

      But as Americans, we don't have a right to not be inconvenienced, to not be annoyed.

      We do to a point. My freedom of speech does not tale away your freedom to ignore me (and BTW, the first amendment IS a law, and it does NOT take away anyone's freedom or rights). I do not have the right and should not have the freeedom to come into your home and wake up your sleeping children. If I wake up your children I'm doing you harm. It's just plain WRONG to do that, and you have no right to do me wrong.

      Now, if you want to smoke a joint in your own living room, go for it. You're not harming anyone. There are good laws and bad laws, this is a GOOD law, pot laws are BAD laws. You're getting "bad laws" confused with "all laws".

  • Volume Limiter (Score:2, Interesting)

    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:Volume Limiter (Score:4, Informative)

      by tweak13 (1171627) on Friday October 01, 2010 @11:09AM (#33759236)
      Your setup would also reduce dynamic range to almost nothing. You'd find that listening to something like that gets fatiguing very quickly, plus it'll probably sound like crap. Even speech needs some dynamic range.

      A much better solution would be a compressor, which would reduce the impact of very loud sounds and leave quieter sections untouched. Yes, the limiter would also have this effect to a degree, but the usage that you describe is much better suited to the more detailed controls of a compressor. Tweaking the compressor curve and combining that with a slow acting AGC can leave you with quite a bit of dynamic range while still keeping perceived volume to a non ear splitting level.
  • Senate Votes To Turn Down Volume On TV Commercials

    Why waste all this time voting. The one with the remote control should have just done it.

  • 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.

  • Wrong perspective (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hduff (570443) <hoytduff@NoSPAM.gmail.com> on Friday October 01, 2010 @12:29PM (#33760710) Homepage Journal

    FTA: a bill to require television stations and cable companies to keep commercials at the same volume as the programs they interrupt

    The programs interrupt the commercials, or hasn't Congress watched TBS lately?

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