Industry Pledges To Keep CALM

Association Heads 'Trumpet' Willingness to Work with Government on Commercial Loudness Mitigation

The heads of major broadcast and cable trade associations Thursday pledged to work with the FCC and Congress as the CALM (Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation) Act takes effect Thursday.

That came at an event on Capitol Hill Thursday marking the law's launch and hosted by Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) who helped push through the legislation. It was billed as an opportunity for them to "trumpet" the new law, though that probably should have been a muted trumpet, since the legislation requires cable operators and TV stations to monitor and moderate the volume of commercials vis-à-vis the programming that surrounds them so ads are not annoyingly louder than surrounding programming.

"Earsplitting television ads have jolted and annoyed viewers for decades," said Eshoo. "With this new law, loud TV commercials that make consumers run for the mute button or change the channel altogether will be a thing of the past."

"Broadcasters have taken the lead in addressing the complex technical challenges associated with this issue," said National Association of Broadcasters president Gordon Smith at the event, according to Eshoo's office. "NAB is pleased to work with Congresswoman Eshoo, Senator Whitehouse and the FCC as the CALM Act is implemented."  National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Michael Powell called it sensible legislation that will "improve the consumer TV experience." He also pledged to work with the FCC and other stakeholder to keep commercial loudness in check.

Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), who introduced the Senate version of the CALM Act, weighed in as well.

"The rules adopted today by the FCC require commercials to have the same average volume as the programs they accompany," Wicker said in a statement. "This is a common sense approach to a problem that plagues individuals across the nation and will create a more enjoyable television experience. As a member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, I am glad to see this legislation is now a reality."

The Act essentially requires the FCC to mandate a commercial audio loudness digital TV standard approved by the Advanced Television Systems Committee.

Under the FCC's rules implementing the act, cable operators are responsible for the volume of both national and local ads, as well as promos, while TV stations will also be responsible for the national network and syndicated ads, as well as promos and local ads, both on broadcast and on the signals they deliver to cable operators. That means if a cable operator delivers a TV station ad that violates the act, it is the broadcaster who is responsible.

But the final order includes some flexibility for operators and stations to comply with their responsibility over the "embedded" ads they pass along from program distributors up the chain. They will be considered in compliance if they "install, utilize and maintain" the requisite equipment and software, or they have a certification from the distributor of the ad that it complies with the recommended ATSC standard that the FCC is making mandatory.

Larger operators will be required to do annual spot-checking of commercials for the first two years, after which that requirement sunsets. Smaller operators and stations will not have to spot check, but stations and operators or all sizes must test in response to a "pattern or trend" of complaints -- rather than, say, a single complaint -- involving their station or system.

Smaller operators will have the opportunity to seek hardship waivers and will not be required to purchase equipment, though they will still be responsible for any proven violations.

The FCC has pledged to monitor those newly-muted ads

On Dec. 13, consumers will be able to report commercials that seem louder than the programming they accompany to the FCC, said a spokesman of the law's launch. "We will have a new complaint form available for this purpose, which can be accessed at

"If consumers do not have online access or if they need assistance, they can call the FCC's Consumer Call Center at 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) (voice) or 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322) (TTY)."

The FCC will keep a tally to see who has been naughty, and who has been nice, compliance wise. "The Commission will use the detailed information from complaints to identify patterns or trends of noncompliance for a particular station, pay TV provider or commercial," said the spokesman. 

While technical issues rarely make the Today show, Matt Lauer and company Thursday spent some airtime talking about the law's implementation. "I have always thought it is weird that if you are an advertiser and you want people to like you and your product, why would you do something that is so annoying?" asked Lauer. Today took a viewer poll on what people did when ads were blasted at them: 38% said they muted the TV, 32% said they changed channels, and 29% said "commercials, what commercials, we DVR everything."