Though CALM Gripes Drop, FCC Investigates a Pattern

FCC Proposes Rulemaking for Improved Loudness Measurement Algorithm

WASHINGTON — Viewers have lodged almost 20,000 complaints about loud commercials since the Federal Communications Commission started implementing the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act last December.

The number has been decreasing of late, which was cause for some celebration on Capitol Hill.

But the FCC may have found a problem.

The agency recently told Congress it is still reviewing more than half those complaints, has found at least one potential pattern to those complaints — a pattern is the threshold for FCC action, including possible fines — and has opened an investigation into a possible bad actor, which it has not identified.

The CALM Act is the law that makes broadcasters and cable operators responsible for making sure that commercials are not appreciably louder than the programming that surrounds them.

Complaints about loud commercials have quieted since the FCC started implementing the CALM Act last Dec. 12, prompting its co-authors to mark the improvement. The FCC’s quarterly report on the act found complaints were down 53% from the previous reporting period to 3,501.

It has only been a year since the FCC began implementing the CALM Act, but the agency is already proposing to make broadcasters and cable operators adopt a new standard for monitoring commercials. In a notice of proposed rulemaking released in the waning hours of Mignon Clyburn’s acting chairmanship, the FCC proposed what it said was a minor rule change to the act: an improved loudness measurement algorithm that could lead to even quieter commercials by closing an electronic loophole of sorts.

The act anticipated and made mandatory any successor document so that the standard could keep pace with changing technology (affording the commission no discretion), the FCC said.

The FCC earlier this month put the new successor document out for public comment for 45 days, given that it might require a hardware or software upgrade.

The algorithm appears to be designed to keep advertisers from using silence to offset excessive loudness in calculating the average volume of a commercial.

The FCC wants to hear from folks who have bought equipment that will be hard to upgrade and from smaller TV stations and multichannel video programming distribiutors that may find it a hardship and need more time.

In the meantime, stations and MVPDs can either adhere to the old standard, or the FCC will waive the old standard if they want to move to the new standard ASAP.