Oct 1, 2009

Noisy Ads on TV

Every year, television networks receive thousands of complaints from viewers bothered by commercials that seem to be getting louder and louder.

A technical organization that sets standards for digital TV broadcasters came out on Sept. 16 with new recommendations that may finally lower the volume.

The Advanced Television Systems Committee, which developed the standards for digital video formats now used by all broadcasters in North America will soon send new standards to broadcasters for approval and provide a way to measure the loudness of television content, based on current scientific understandings of how human hearing works. Shows and commercials would be tagged with information about their loudness that TVs and audio receivers could use to counteract the audio tricks that make commercials appear so loud.

Under current FCC rules, the peak of a commercial can be no higher than the programming it accompanies. The problem is that the peak level of the sound does not accurately reflect how loud something sounds to the listener. Audio engineers find ways to get around the FCC rules by making commercials seem louder without actually increasing the peak levels of the loudest parts.

The problem is made worse with digital television, which can produce a greater range of sound than analog. This exacerbates the difference between television programs, which use the full range of sound, and the commercials, which squeeze the sound and push it upwards.

The new ATSC recommendations are entirely voluntary, but ATSC President Richer is confident that broadcasters will adopt them. "Broadcasters want to do things in a uniform way," he said. "Because our membership is broad, all of the major networks, many of the other broadcast groups, and also the manufacturers, we get a lot of buy-in to what we do." I think they should pay us to watch commercials, rather than charging us to watch TV.

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