Here's some good news: Loud TV ads may be near an end

McClatchy NewspapersJune 10, 2009 

WASHINGTON — Congress soon might mute screaming TV-ad announcers who press viewers to "buy now!" — if broadcasters don't beat the lawmakers to the volume button.

Under a proposal to be taken up Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission would squelch ad volumes to the average decibels of the TV show during which they appear.

Currently, TV ads can't be louder than the loudest peak in a show, said David Perry, the chairman of the broadcast production committee of the American Association of Advertising Agencies in New York. Ads often seem louder to viewers, he added, because a program's volume peak rarely comes just before an ad.

"Every time the ads came on they blew me out of my seat," said Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., who introduced the bill last June. "It really turns you off, makes you think, 'I'll be damned if I give them any of my money.' "

She's a member of the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, which will consider the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, aka CALM. It has 63 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate.

Broadcasters say they have their own plan to lower TV ad volume, which could take effect within a couple of months. The switch to digital TV on Friday, they say, also could help by enabling advertisers to use a wider range of sounds, instead of relying on pure volume to get attention.

Dan Jaffe, the executive vice president for government relations of the New York-based Association of National Advertisers, said that advertising and broadcasting industry leaders knew that loud commercials annoyed customers because they'd received numerous complaints.

To resolve them, broadcasters and advertisers want to set their own standards, in which a commercial would be "loud enough that a reasonable person can hear it, but not so loud you can hear it in Mongolia," Jaffe said. "Our members don't want to offend viewers."

Eshoo concedes that her bill isn't as high a priority as, say, health care or war funding, but she's confident that it will pass.

"People practically throw their arms around me when they hear about it," she said.

However, an aide to Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who introduced the bill in the Senate last year, said Wicker wouldn't reintroduce the bill because he was working with broadcasters to hold down the volume.

"The senator is monitoring the progress being made and will consider reintroducing legislation if the industry cannot fix the problem on its own," Wicker's spokesman, Jahan Wilcox, said in an e-mail.

Perry, the ad agency association's spokesman on the matter, agreed that broadcasters should set their own loudness standards.

"Congress will inevitably make it more messy than it needs to be," he said. "It's like going after a fly with a pistol."

Britain set similar restrictions on loud ads last year.

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