Why Are TV Ads So Danged Loud?

The other day someone was trying to tell me that TV commercials are much louder than the shows we watch, but I couldn't hear them over the ad that was playing on the television at the time.

In fact, it's not just on television any more. I was watching a Supernatural episode from the CW website and was assaulted with ads that were much louder than the show through my own computer - and that's what got me going on today's Screen Rant.

TV Commercials Are Too Loud, But Don't Ask The TV Stations About It

Television commercial volumes (I'm using TV as my common reference) are too loud and without a doubt, we know it, but according to your local television station, they effectively insult us by telling us we are wrong.

Call a television station and ask why their commercials are louder, and they'll tell you they are not louder, they just sound louder. WHAT? OK, so then these words are not bold, they just look bolder. Gimme a break. Our perceptions, and thus, the reality of the situation is that commercials are louder, regardless of what any techno wiz mouthpiece says and that's that.

So How's it So Loud If It Isn't?

The reason we get "blasted" at commercial time is determined by how the audio levels are recorded when creating their ads. Affectively, the process is called dynamic range compression, or "compression" for short. Compression is applied to reduce sounds that get recorded over certain levels while the quieter sounds do not get reduced. In the process, the advertisers take liberal advantage of the mid range tones to exploit our senses, since those aren't affected as much.

To sum it up, compression is used to increase the average level of sound, effectively making it louder.

The FCC does not regulate the volume of television programs and commercials, though it continually receives consumer complaints about broadcast sound levels and back in 1984 the FCC determined that there was no effective way to control loudness, so they have left us to our own devices and they do not regulate the volume for TV or the commercials we get assaulted by but there is some control in place since broadcasters are required to limit the peak power used to send out their signals.

The only impact that snippet has for us is that a TV commercial will never be any louder than the loudest part of any TV program. I guess that would suck for the advertisers if I were to find a show about grass growing but if we watch a show with lots of gunfire, the advertisers will languish in the affects and we'd be doomed to that level of volume for any ads we get.

So when I was blasted with the ads during Supernatural, it was the effect of all the salt filled shotguns going off that allowed the advertisers to blast me with their own salt, of sorts.

Is Anyone Out There Hearing Our Complaints?

The FCC says they do not regulate the volume of commercials. They go on to say that a commercial being too loud is a judgment call with each individual listener. The FCC says we should "contact the station involved, and identify each message of concern by the sponsor or product's name and by the date and time of the broadcast."

Yeah, that sounds useful... seeing how well THAT's worked to date.

So who really is on Your side?

I am. I need to invent a TV remote that you leave pointed at the TV and it will adjust the volume accordingly, but until I invent that, who is on our side?

Even though advertisers are seemingly unaware that folks are abusing the mute buttons at ad time, Magnovox tried something that didn't seem to pan out and Dolby has something new coming on the market.

According to the sales pitch (Which was probably louder than the show it was on with) Magnavox's Smart Sound, which has been around since 1992, truly reduces the loudness of commercials. But various bulletin boards around the internet don't seem to support that aspect one way or the other. My guess is since no one seems to jump out and say, "HEY, this works, buy it", then it's probably a perception more than a result.

But something new is coming at us:

Back in January of 2007, Dolby Laboratories, Inc. demonstrated Dolby Volume, an audio-processing technology designed to address the annoyances of inconsistent loudness in broadcast TV.

It models how we perceive (THANK YOU DOLBY!) audio to eliminate the variable loudness when changing channels or programs while still delivering a vibrant audio experience at low volume by dynamically compensating for the human ear's lower sensitivity to bass and treble sounds.

In other words, it keeps the perceived aural spectral range consistent when the levels abruptly change; like when a loud commercial appears or the viewer changes channels.

See, someone does care ... even if it took 20 years. According to press reports from last year, they said this product could start showing up on the shelves in late '07 to early '08.

Until then, we just keep pounding the remote 'mute' or volume keys, steadily draining the batteries in the conspiracy to make us buy more batteries for our remotes! (But that conspiracy is for another time.)

Sources: MSNBC, Associated Content,, SF Gate and thanks toXO Wave for the image

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