Our Commercials Go Up To Eleven

Lydia Kulbida this week asked an important question: Why is Congress wasting their time trying to regulate the volume of TV commercials? Sure, it’s frivolous, but there’s another reason the law is misguided: TV commercials are already the same volume as everything else.

We’ve all noticed that commercials seem louder than the programs, but the key word here is seem. The truth is that they are not louder, but they are just mixed differently. There’s a good explanation of this in an MSNBC.com story from 2007:

“The peak levels of commercials are no higher than the peak levels of program content. But the average level is way, way higher, and that’s the level your ears care about. If someone sets off a camera flash every now and then it’s one thing; if they aim a steady spot light into your eyes it’s another, even if the peak brightness is no higher.”

Maximum volume is a standard across the industry —but there are tricks that audio engineers use to make things stand out. I used to have radio commercials done by Pat Tessitore at Cathedral Sound in Rensselaer. Whenever I would hear one in my car it would jump right out of the speakers, grab you by the ears, and yell “HEY! LISTEN TO ME!”.

It’s not that the commercial was louder than the other content —but the way it was mixed created the perception that it was louder. Spots I made back at the TV station always sounded like crap because we didn’t know Pat’s secrets. Darn him and his audio wizardry!

So, on Tuesday the House passed The Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act (CALM), a measure that would force the TV industry to make sure everything’s the same volume. But you know what it will do? Probably just make the programs louder, not the commercials softer.

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6 responses to “Our Commercials Go Up To Eleven

  1. That’s just plain stupid.

  2. Incredibly stupid. Maybe Congress can figure out what to do about a TV hazard that’s actually hurting people: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/15/children-killed-by-tvs-in_n_392316.html

  3. > But you know what it will do? Probably just make the programs
    > louder, not the commercials softer.

    Yeah, but I can fix that.

    Or are you saying that attempts to regulate a normalized “perceived volume” (which is all anybody cares about) will lead to an escalating spiral of ever louder TV that, at some point, I’m not allowed to turn down?

    Still, it’s a matter for FCC, not Congress. Pandering bastards.

    LQ

  4. I think that if the sound “leveling” mentioned in the MSNBC.com story goes into widespread use, the perceived volume of the programs will be the same as the commercials.

    Either that or it will just get louder and louder until it cracks the windows in your house, ruins your hearing, and blows through your family room like in the old Maxell cassette ads: http://bullmurph.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/maxell.jpg

  5. “Lydia Kulbida this week asked an important question:”

    Eye,

    You know that this commenter favors you.

    However, you stated a factual impossibility above. Ms. Lydia has never asked – and will never ask – an important question in her career.

    Just the way it is, I’m afraid. Like the sun rising in the east, taxes on April 15, and death.

  6. #5: Most of the the news anchors I worked with were very smart people, Lydia included.

    That said I think that sometimes local TV news is a medium where complex questions are not asked —or answered.

    Unless you are CBS 6, of course. Anyone who’s seen their promos knows that they ask tough questions and hold official accountable.

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