Commercials Are "Excessively Noisy or Strident"

Don't hate me. It's just my job, and they make me do it. Yes, I am one of those cursed recording engineers who mixes television commercials, and mixes them to be as loud as possible. It's not my fault, it's just the way it is.

You know how loud and startling the jump in audio levels can be between your favorite TV show and the commercial break. You want to believe that the ads are much louder than the show, right? I've known all along that it's not the case, but a new report is backing me up.

There's a peak loudness level that commercials can't exceed, so most commercials compress the dynamic range. The differences between the loudest part of a voice-over and the softest are minimized, and then the flattened out track is pushed right up to the limit. Why do I do that?

Simple. Advertisers have little control over exactly what will precede their ads. If it's following a loud action scene, the ad needs to be equally loud. Plus, they want every word of their commercial heard, even as you're walking away grab a soda from the next room.

The problem is, what if that blaringly loud commercial follows a soft scene with whispered dialogue? Well, the perception is that the commercial is incredibly loud. This situation is only going to get worse as we transition into digital broadcasts which have a much higher dynamic range than before. The program material will be even softer, making ads appear much louder.

Poster_2 A new report talks about attempts to limit (pun intended) this problem. There are some televisions with built-in volume controls, and Telos Systems Group is marketing a loudness-control system aimed at broadcasters.

Representative Anna Eshoo (CA) is taking this to Capitol Hill. She's introduced a bill to Congress called CALM that will require the FCC to set new standards to keep the commercials from being louder than the surrounding programming. CALM stands for Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act. The problem is that the commercials really aren't louder, they just appear that way.

New rules in Britain go into effect next week. The Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice will require broadcasters to match the maximum subjective loudness of commercials to the program levels. "Advertisements must not be excessively noisy or strident." I'll have to remember that at work tomorrow. Note to self: Don't be noisy or strident. Got it. -Leslie Shapiro

Newhouse News Service

Image courtesy of British Advertiser Standards Authority