Should Television Ad Volume Be Equalized?

Published 5 years ago by , Updated February 10th, 2012 at 7:45 am,

too loud 2 Should Television Ad Volume Be Equalized?

Back in March of 2008, I went on a tear about the loud volume of commercials on our television sets.

We all know it, but networks say it isn’t so.  Television stations drink the fruit punch and then say that ads are not louder than the program, but that they only sound louder.  Duh!

Technically they are correct – just like the statement that it’s not the flame that hurts your finger, it’s the heat generated by the flame. Sorry TV guys, but the source is the source and that’s that.  You can use whatever words you like, but you still look the fool trying to make us think you’re right.

Looking into why TV ads are louder, I discovered that advertisers take advantage of what is called mid range tones from the dynamic range compression process.  By this process, louder sounds get reduced a bit while the quieter sounds are usually not affected.  In the end, this compression increases the average level of sound and the effective result is that the show becomes louder.

There is one tiny control in place, but it doesn’t seem realistic.  This control or practice says that no television ad will ever be louder than the loudest part of any show you watch.  That means if I watch a show that talks about growing grass, the ads should be pretty quiet.  I watch a show on historical military conflicts, and I’m going to be in for a wild auditory ride come commercial time.

too loud Should Television Ad Volume Be Equalized?Networks and advertisers further insult our intelligence by making the newest excuse that ads seem just that much louder because ads come on when, traditionally, a show is at its quietest moments – i.e., just before a commercial.  Give me a $%^&ing break.

Regardless of what any network says in their tech-speak, as far as my perceptions go these fracking ads are louder than the shows and that’s that.  The more you try to tell me otherwise, TV guys, the more daft in the head you look.

The FCC has even said that volume is a personal preference and we should contact stations to inform them of the loudness.  Oh, like that’s worked real well so far.

There Are TV’s Out There For This

In January of 2007, Dolby Laboratories, Inc. demonstrated Dolby Volume, an audio-processing technology that deals with the sounds we perceive and works to eliminate variability.

TV’s with this feature were supposed to start showing up on the shelves sometime in 2008.  I haven’t followed that up enough to know if those TV’s are currently out there.

There Was Help On The Horizon

Representative Anna Eshoo, D-CA, presented a bill last June to regulate commercial volume.  Eshoo is a member of the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet.  The bill is the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, aka CALM. There were 63 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate.

This tells me that we definitely are not alone and the issue is obviously gaining enough ground in political arena’s to generate their focus.  Albeit, good job Eshoo!

In her words about television commercials:  “It really turns you off, makes you think, ‘I’ll be damned if I give them any of my money.’

–~~~~~~~~~~~~–

You Need To Sit Down For This One

Broadcasters are saying that they have a plan in place to address this issue and are hinting that now that TV has gone digital, it’s a plan that could go into affect in the next couple of months.  Someone asked me today if this “technology” wasn’t already in-place and why haven’t they already used it?

Good question, considering that advertiser use of the mid-tones of sound probably could be regulated, but the networks don’t want to, apparently.  I mean, hey!  That’s akin to slapping the hand that feeds you.

What I see as the downside of the digital age is that advertisers are now going to have a broader range of sounds to use instead of just volume.  To me, that means that they’ll be able use more tech-speak to make excuses for why the ads are louder, yet again.

Survey Says?

Eshoo’s bill, H.R. 1084, after being floated for approximately a year, finally had its moment in the light.  And it seems that broadcasters fingers are much deeper in pockets than this naive writer suspected.

David Donovan, president of the Association for Maximum Service Television, produced an argument saying that there will be a “recommended practice” in place by September that makes suggestions on what levels sound should be at during shows and ads.

Congress lapped it up like a cat at a milk bowl and decided that they will let broadcasters police their own for now and if the problem was not resolved, that they will reintroduce the bill next year.

Sigh…  Give me a break!  That means the bill will be reintroduced and then float around for another year until they stall it yet again.

In The End, Advertisers Win

Broadcasters got a stay in the bill and we continue to suffer.

Sure, volume is a perceived thing.  That’s why on some cable stations I have to crank my volume 50% higher to hear the shows and yet the commercials are still at their usual mode of LOUD.  Because I perceive it.  Some say that’s a ploy disseminated by the stations heavily in the pockets of the advertisers.  It does seem odd, but I can’t tell you for a fact that’s what is behind it… though if I look, it sometimes does seem that the network slamming me with this mix of volume has even more ads than most networks and probably pays a chunk of money through the nose to guarantee first TV rights to movies.  Hmm…

So, while advertisers drop almost $300 billion a year into commercials, the consumers are left with ringing ears.  The more patient and possibly wiser consumer would rather rent or buy DVD’s of shows than deal with this noise crap.

Than again, my suspicious mindset wonders if that alone might not be the agenda all along?

As far as I can tell, there are no good answers on the horizon for us.  We’ll will just have to keep thumping our volume or mute buttons to save ourselves from the distraction that is the noise of advertising.  If you’ve come up with a working solution, please, let the readers here at Screen Rant know about it.  We could use some auditory assistance.

Sources:  MSNBC, Dolby Investor News, Yahoo News, On Line Athens, XO Wave, TVB

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TAGS: tv commercials

28 Comments

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  1. They do the same thing here in the UK and it bloody irritating. I’ll be cooking while the TV is on, so it’s already at a higher volume so I can hear it over the sound of cooking and the extraction fan, but when the ads come on, it’s just unbearable.

    Hopefully it will be regulated in the US, then us in the UK will follow suit (like we do with so many other things the US does first… smoking ban anyone?)

  2. Kevin J:

    What I’ve always found to be a jaw dropper, is that if it didn’t work, it wouldn’t exist.

    Is that crazy, or what?

  3. Drives my lovely wife crazy – I mean she become *severely* agitated and pounds on the tv remote. I just shrink back into my favorite chair.

    I had heard that “compressed audio” explanation before, and while it may be technically correct, the net effect is that the commercials are certainly perceived as being often jarringly louder than the shows they help pay for.

  4. I don’t have a DVR, so I can’t Fast Forward through commercials, but I do have a mute button on the remote which means I can completely ignore the commercials all together. I am not swayed by any of their talky talk crap during the breaks, and I’m sure they don’t care what I think. All they really care about is the revenue generated by the commercials and, in the end, that is all they will ever care about. Networks don’t care about quality programming.

  5. If an ad is too loud or annoying I’ll either change the channel, definitely fast forward if its on the DVR, and or never buy their product. Having working for companies that play on loopholes I can tell you that the commercials, no matter what they say or how they spin it…are louder. We, the public viewer, are not stupid. All you’re doing is annoying us and we’re not buying your product.

    This is a great column. I’m going to make sure a few people see this.

  6. I don’t watch TV so it’s not a problem..but it sounds like most of you think it’s a royal pain..

  7. im a blind mute, so i’m better off than u. lol

  8. The FCC works for big business not the little guy. Same with the FDA.

  9. Same with me GK333. I stopped watching live tv when it went federal, I mean digital last week.

    I have enough movies and tv shows I haven’t seen on dvd to last me a few years.

  10. I got over the whole LOUDER THAN F**K (sorry, Vic…but some outrages drive me to colorful language…) COMMERCIAL thing some time back. Having delt with professional audio types and their gear for the greater part of my career, I asked for, and got a solution that doesn’t completely solve the problem, but did make it much less annoying.

    I run the audio signals from my dvr,dvd, and gaming console into a small sub mixer. I have a compresser/limiter patched into the sub mixer at the effects send inputs and can pretty effectively “limit” the volume going into my power amp and speakers from the cable audio feed. Meaning, the audio threshold is set at a particular level of db, and the limiter (after some tweaking…) works to defeat any louder volume that the cable tries to send. After some experimentation I finally got the program and commercial volumes very close to balanced.

    Bruce, thanks for running this post! Nothing better than a group vent about the whole “niegbor’s barking dog” thing that the ad companies do to get our attention. I know not alot of folks have the gear I referred to, and honestly, getting this stuff to defeat the problem would be kind of silly ( I already had my own gear…), but I thought I’d put in my two cents. Hope it helps someone.

  11. I get pretty sick and tired of super loud commercials as well. But I also get extremely annoyed with movies and tv shows that constantly change their volume as well.

    I don’t like to watch them and have to turn up the volume to hear what they’re saying and then suddenly have my ears blown out from an explosion or something. I’d very much appriciate movies, tv shows and commercials using the same volume.

    Sometimes when a movie is so hard to hear because it’s so low and then suddenly changes to the oposite extreme. I can hardly stand to finish watching it.

  12. I know this is a film site, and this is slightly off-topic, so I’ll keep this short – but this is the exact same practice that’s ruining music today. The modern mastering process compresses the hell out of it, so although it’s impossible to actually be ‘louder’ technically, it SOUNDS louder as all the dynamics are stripped.

    Compare your old Beatles albums with, say, the latest Metallica album – same normalised volume, but the latter sounds louder. It also sounds awful – distorted as hell (not just the guitars :D). Every song on the radio wants to sound louder than the previous, and IMO it’s at the expense of dynamics and clarity.

    The same mastering techniques are used on commercials to grab your attention – but as stated above it could easily be controlled with limiters or, even better, ‘intelligent’ software that monitors the PERCEIVED volume.

  13. I also have dealt with the broadcast industry for years. We wrote all of sony’s control codes for their equipment over a decade ago. The problem is really philosophical in nature; we have 500 different types of orange juice that only a chemist could tell the difference in fighting for the same marketshare. So they have to try and tell you that the orange juice will help you get a date or make you less offensive because there is no product differentiation to make them stand out. I have run the gamut from the broadcasters to the (paid for) people at the FCC. (I’m a semi-retired D.o.D. Prime Contractor and have dealt with Govies for more than 30 years).
    The Dolby audio chipset should ameliorate the problem but it’s marketing is flawed as well (and they don’t respond to queries on the subject ’cause I caught them with their proverbial ‘pants down’.) It’s being introduced in high end stereo gear FIRST so that the adopters, Toshiba and others can use it as a draw to convince you to trash your 2 year old tv (sales are down) and buy a new one, just to get this feature. It will then trickle down into mainstream tv product lines but only after they’ve bled this avenue dry. Eventually (and I really mean -eventually-) Dolby will introduce a box to go on the earphone out on your tv to go into an external speaker or set of phones to let you retrofit it to the sets of the people they couldn’t con into ‘upgrading’ their tv’s.
    It means Dolby has a period of cleaner profit (they don’t have to provide end user products and support).
    What I have taken to doing is emailing the companies who are pulling (as Jimmy Buffet called them) the Late Night TV hawk-eyed screamer routine with their ads and telling them A: I hope you didn’t have anything meaningful to tell us in your ad because everyone I talk to is hitting the mute button till it’s over or B: because you pulled this trick? I refuse to buy your products.
    Obviously I’m a voice in the wilderness on this and the “Great Unwashed” as coined by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, still are buying the products they hawk so they can ignore the rest of us.
    jccampb

  14. NOWHEREMAN:

    My pleasure. I like pointing out the idiosyncrasies of different organizations or groups. Especially the ones that try to manipulate us like this, with our own equipment in our own homes. It really irks me. It’s my own pleasure to not only vent about it, but to share our thoughts as a group on it.

    Even if we don’t have your gear, I like hearing that you have found a way to somehow normalize the output.

    Thanks for chiming in.

    MANDARR:

    And here I thought it was only me slowly having to crank my volume up throughout a movie…

    Thanks for letting me know I’m not losing it.

  15. LANK:

    No frets. I think this is an off-subject rant fro the site that still affects not only TV, but as you pointed out, the music industry as well. I worked from lots of sources to put this together.

    `
    JOHN C. CAMPBELL III:

    It always seems odd that useful products (Dolby Chip) seem to somehow not get decent marketing exposure.

    I’ve seen boxes that go between the TV and the input that claim to help this noise spike issue, but I presume that since they’re obscure in reference and not in our faces on the web with people touting them, that they don’t work.

    Thanks all for chiming in.

    I’m looking forward to more thoughts and angles!

  16. One of the biggest offenders of volume bait and switch are the commercials on The Daily Show, if I haven’t recorded the show and am watching it “live”, as it were, I have to hurry up and hit the mute button before the sound scares the crap out of me.

    I’m constantly turning the TV up or down or just plain muting it. However they’re trying to get their message across, all I know is that I’ve become even more proficient at avoiding it.

  17. You know what is REALLY annoying about this whole thing? When you are watching some late-night TV and have the volume down. These shows have such wacky volume levels as it is, I’m constantly playing with the remote. Then a commercial comes on and it is BLASTING… at like 1AM… SO NOT COOL! Is that their intention? That those of us living in apartments BLAST their ads at our neighbors late at night, causing subliminal advertising?

  18. finnish this its always the same im trying to crash out out on the couch then all of a sudden
    “Hello Do You Want Sodding Insurence”
    Drives me right up the wall

  19. That’s funny Billbo1970.

    Ads so loud that they capture demographics outside your apartment.

  20. I used to work for a local NBC station, it was my job to take the physical tapes from the advertisers and TV series and record them directly into the hard drive based server. The process involved playing the tape, and setting the correct video and AUDIO levels, then dubbing it to the server.

    I took my job very seriously, and I hated loud as heck commercials as much as the next guy. I went to school to learn about TV and film, so I know how to read and set audio levels.

    But I noticed, even when I set the audio levels exactly where they should be, when I’d watch that same spot play back later over the air on my home TV, it came out louder than the show it played during, which I also dubbed into the server.

    Don’t tell anyone this, but I started a kind of rebellion. I would record the commercial spots with a slightly LOWER volume than normal. This way, it would match the volume of the show. Unfortunately I was the only member of the rebellion and when my spots mixed with the other employees’ spots, volumes were up and down and up and down.

    The moral of the story is this: While the whole mid-range thing might account for the mysterious louder than I thought levels, my position is highly responsible for the audio levels that go out over the air. Now take into account all the employees that do a half assed job, or are having a bad day, or only set the levels based on the first 5 seconds of a spot, well there’s all kinds of variables that could affect the loudness.

    There’s just not enough people like me who actually care about the end product working in broadcast anymore. (especially with all the layoffs in stations in the past 6 months)

  21. I was watching a TV program the other day which had a lot o loud noises, occasionally high pitched so I turned the volume down.

    When the ads came on, there were, again, high pitched noises and they were so loud they started to affect my ears (you know, in that way that’s just on the cusp of making them hurt).

    I really can’t believe thats just the mid-range thing.

  22. @DataSchmuck: I’m sure that people appreciated your effort. You didn’t get fired for doing that, did you?

    And, thanks for the info. It’s nice to know instead of wonder.

  23. I sent this to Dolby on their “Dolby Audio” chipset.
    I wrote all of Sony’s low level codes for controlling their broadcast equipment some years ago under contract so I’m somewhat familiar with the market sector. and I quote ….

    …”Dolby Volume, a breakthrough audio-processing technology designed to help television makers address the annoyances of inconsistent loudness in broadcast TV. Dolby Volume brings a fundamentally new approach to TV entertainment by delivering consistent volume levels.” ..

    I don’t know why you all continue the ‘weasel wording’ on Dolby Volume. 99% of the people interested in this are interested because they are sick unto death of advertisers blasting you out of your chair with their “late night TV hawk-eyed screamer” routines (as Jimmy Buffet used to call them). Since they have decided the “great unwashed” are too stupid to listen to normal level presentation of information about their products and are counting on pumping up the adrenlin of their unwilling listeners by the noise level getting their attention so that they will run out and by their products like the good little sheep the “Supply Side economics” crowd has defined them as.
    .
    I realize the profit from reselling the chipset to equipment manufacturers is ‘clean’ because you don’t have to deal with the ‘end users’ but I have to tell you that 90% of the recently bought TV’s on the market would last for several years more and in these tight times? That’s a good thing. Dolby would have done the consumer’s a service by first releasing an adapter that plugged into the earphone jack on a TV to go between the set and the headphones (or external speaker) incorporating the Dolby Volume chipset. To retrofit into the MILLIONS of perfectly useable TV’s that only are missing this one feature (Volume Control).
    Instead it appears that you all are peddling the chipset to manufacturers who are going to add this to ONLY their high end gear to try and force people to buy new and ‘buy up’. At the point in time that their sales peak and flatten out from this ‘trick’ then and only then will they trickle the components into the rest of their lines.
    Diogenes Laertius of Anacharsis (Circa 200) native of Laerte in Cilicia, said, `The market is a place set apart where men may deceive one another.’ So I think things have never really changed.

  24. You are right John, in regards to “men may deceive each other”.

    That’s what marketing is all about, fooling someone into a comfort zone about a product.

    I spent a year studying marketing for a previous job. How it is used, how to employ it, etc..

    Whether it be on billboards, radio or TV’s, its sole purpose of marketing is to get people to feel good about a product.

    To most of us here, it doesn’t seem to work. We don’t fall for the fragmented phrases spliced together to seem to form a positive statement. We don’t fall for the arrangement of colors that may have simple, commanding meanings and I suspect we don’t fall for the music from our ‘happy era’ of years that might also make us feel good about something. I also suspect you don’t go into a store and let the setup fool you into certain areas. (You’d be surprised how many millions are spent by organizations just to set up a store properly. It’s a hoot.)

    Yet the scary part is that it all works or it wouldn’t still be around or be an industry that spends billions a year to do just that. Help people buy a product.

    And then, we wonder how Nielsen ratings can be the way they are? Nah, I don’t wonder. It’s the same demographic that marketing affects.

  25. Sadly, both my sons watch commercials and they’re 20 & 21. I’ll get the “have you seen” thing every once in a while. I don’t know if they watch them because they like them or are to lazy to press the mute button.

  26. so fair enough they are not technically louder , i still know that most people grab for the remote during ads to turn the sound down or even off , think about thee millions of people who unessasarily grab for their remote to do this every night , thats alot of battery power being wasted , arent they try to mine the steve irwin wildlife reserve for minerals that go into making batteries ??

  27. OK I’ll straighten the whole thing out for you people. Sit back and learn. The FFC does have a limit as to the Braodcast Audio Level, but to gain favour with the advertisers most networks have agreed to run regular programing below the ‘ideal’ level, and the commercials run at the regulated level, ( which, yes is louder than the programs,,,) It’s just a way for networks to get around the FCC ruling and the CRTC ruling in Canada.The bottom line is the Ads are louder than the Programing but at the same time they are well within the regulated boundries.

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