CALM Act Passes Congress
Allows FCC to regularize volume between programming and commercials
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 12/2/2010 7:39:00 PM
The CALM (Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation) Act was approved in the House Thursday and is heading to the President's desk for his signature.
The bill, which has been pushed by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), adopts the Advanced Television Systems Committee's recommended practices for variations in commercial volume in relation to the programs around them.
In other words, viewers will not have to ride gain on the boosted volume of some commercials coming in and out of shows. The bill directs the FCC to regulate commercial volume per the ATSC recommendations adopted last November. It gives cable operators and broadcasters a year from the law's adoption to comply.
"Consumers have been asking for a solution to this problem for decades, and today they finally have it," said Eshoo in a statement. "The CALM Act gives consumers peace of mind, because it puts them in control of the sound in their homes."
She said that loud commercials have topped the list of FCC consumer complaints for 21 of the past 25 quarterly reports, but that current FCC policy has been to advise consumers to Mute the commercials if they think they are too loud. "My bill reduces commercial volume, allowing them to only be as loud as the decibel level of regular programming," she said. "Consumers will no longer have to experience being blasted at. It's a simple fix to a huge nuisance."
The bill passed the Senate Sept. 30. It had already passed in the House, but there were some changes that required a re-vote in the House before it became law.
The Senate tweaks included clarifying that the standards will be an FCC "mandate," not simply an incorporation of the ATSC guidelines. Another extends that mandate to any "successor" standard approved by ATSC. Any change in a bill requires a re-vote in the other chamber.
A third change deals with the language of a waiver (up to two years beyond the effective date) for small cable operators or stations for whom adopting the regime, and the equipment necessary to regularize the volume, would be a financial hardship.
This is a good idea. Loudness management was not an easy feat to accomplish technically in the analog era, but the digital era provides tools that can be used to solve this problem, and this (the threat of enforcement)is probably the stimulus broadcasters need.
But if the language of the bill reflects what is being reported, it will be hard to enforce. Loudness is a subjective impression, a perception, not a measurable or quantifiable value reflected by "decibel" measurements. Two audio sources can have exactly the same measurable peak audio level readings, yet due to how they are produced they can be perceived as very different in loudness.
To have teeth, measured differences from audio samples from an offending broadcaster would have to be documented using ITU-R BS.1770 standards, which ignore "decibel" levels and concentrate on keeping dialog levels consistent. And that is what viewers actually find annoying, not "loud" commercials, which would be a relative measurement at best, but inconsistent dialog levels from program to commercial, commercial to commercial, and commercial to program.
This bill probably also does not address the inconsistencies between channels on a cable or satellite service, which are a large part of the larger problem.
Still, the desired end result, which is that the perceived loudness be consistent within any particular channel, can be achieved and probably will be sooner than later due to passage of this bill.
Tom Lewis - 12/6/2010 5:52:48 PM EST
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