FCC approves quieter commercials

A new rule says ads can't be louder than the programs they accompany. But is the regulation really needed?

By Jonathan Berr Dec 13, 2011 6:06PM
Image: Businessman watching television (© Image Source/Corbis)Those loud commercials that make us instantly reach for the remote control will go away soon.

The Federal Communications Commission unanimously passed a rule Tuesday that says commercials can't be louder than the programs they accompany.

Congress gave the agency authority to shush those commercials last year when it passed the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act to address the situation. The FCC's rule takes effect one year from now.

It's taken the government 45 years to tackle the problem, and people were passionate about it. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said Tuesday that his commission has received thousands of complaints about loud commercials, according to Bloomberg.

Still, CALM is one of the most unnecessary bits of legislation ever passed by Congress. It solves a "problem" that really didn't need solving. If people don't like a commercial, they can always change the channel or lower the volume if it's too loud. Moreover, loud commercials are among the least offensive forms of advertising out there. The subtle, softer forms of advertising are far more worrisome.

Take product placement, which has skyrocketed over the past few years. Some popular shows have thousands of brand "occurrences." For instance, when the cast of the hit A&E reality show "Pawn Stars" gets hungry, they head to their neighborhood Subway. That was quite a coup for Subway because its brand was seamlessly integrated into the show. 

"Extreme Makeover:Home Edition" is chock full of product placements for Sears Holdings (SHLD), Ford (F) and countless other brands. Fox's "American Idol" is clever about brand integration by placing the judges' Coca-Cola (KO) logo glasses in plain view of the camera. It even has contestants shoot commercials for Ford.  

The merger between brand marketing and content is nearly complete. At times it's difficult to know when one begins and the other ends. It makes me pine for loud TV commercials because at least you knew what was what.

Dec 13, 2011 7:45PM

I believe Mr. Berr is way off the mark with his comment about this being a problem not needing solving.  I can deal with product placement and make decisions for myself, but who feels like reaching for the remote every time a commercial comes on.  It is very annoying to be watching a show you enjoy only to be bombarded with a commercial that is obviously louder than the show. 


Its about time this was dealt with.  Its just a shame that it take an act of congress to make it happen.

Dec 13, 2011 7:57PM
Really, Mr Berr? You find worrisome or offensive the "Subtle, softer forms" like product placement? And you'd rather have the blaring, loud commercials pop up every three to five minutes, disrupting the continuity of the show and forcing you to manually mitigate the noise level using your remote? I seriously doubt that, sir.

 I'd say you're writing this because you're on the side of the advertisers. Heaven forbid you act in a way that might be perceived as hostile to your so-sacred cash cows. This is no more journalism or educated discussion than it is a dissertation on microbiology.
Dec 13, 2011 10:35PM
It's about time !  wakes the kids and baby up every time there is a commercial . Advertisers are dead wrong if they think raising the volume will get me to buy their product . In fact , just the opposite !
Dec 13, 2011 9:08PM
Why are they waiting one year to enact this law... this should be immediate without delay. To hell with the commercial people... they are violating our households with the this noise pollution and irritation... to hell with them I say. Make this law happen now... not a year from now!
Dec 13, 2011 7:40PM
Its about damn time.   Commercials are about the most distracting events of television watching todate... Now they need to stop pop up commercials on the internet... Oh and eliminate telemarketing on cellphones too, regardless of whether they are for profit or non profit like politics pushing.  My trade magazines are innudated with way too many advertisments as well.
Dec 13, 2011 7:00PM
Finally, the FCC is doing something about these horribly annoying, loud  commercials!!!  I get tired of always having to mute them.  Do these advertisers really think we will listen to something so loud and obnoxious?  I have a hot news flash for advertisers:  More people will listen to your commercials if they are at a normal volume.
Dec 13, 2011 7:02PM
This should have been in place a long time ago. I dont know how the FCC let it happen to begin with.
Dec 13, 2011 9:46PM
to say it was unnecessary infuriates me! The PAIN  I endure just so i can watch tv is nothing short of criminal! My husband doesnt hear as well as me, so when the commercials come on, its very painful. I end up with an earache everynight. My remote control only goes up and down one number per press, so to adjust it takes too many 'presses', not good for arthritic tv watchers, not to mention by the time the volume is down sufficiently, its time to start putting it back up again!  So now i just hit the 'mute' button, but then i actually MISS the commercials I would have liked to have heard ! The funny thing is that  i would actually LIKE to watch a lot of them, but i'm forced to miss them ALL. Also, my husband is a morning person and i am a nite-owl. So if i dont anticipate the coming commercial and the volume goes up, it wakes him up and he cant get back to sleep so he can be to work at 4 AM ! Less commercial time for me, because i cant relax and watch tv when hes in bed, i read books instead!! This will actually  be better for the advertisers, and the health of my poor ears, although i'm sure to have damage from 37 years of nightly earaches!!! I should sue someone !!
Dec 13, 2011 9:11PM
And why is cable tv not paid for by those annoying commercials?  There shouldn't be a need for a subscription fee.
Dec 13, 2011 6:28PM
the "calm" act should have been unnecessary but because the media doesnt seem to care about how much they can abuse their viewers it became necessary. why do we have to be inconvenienced all the time, the author should get his head out of the sand.
Dec 13, 2011 6:52PM

Unnecessary legislation?  Really?  I find that anytime I am bombarded by noise above(and I am saying way above) the level I set for my listening pleasure it is not unnecessary at all.  So basically I am supposed to grab my remote every 4-6 minutes of a program and lower the volume and then back up to where I can hear the program.  You are an idiot sir.  And I say that with the utmost respect for you as a person.(who must not watch television,...ever)   It really should have been unnecessary because it should have never been allowed in the first place. 


As consumers we have less power now than we ever have and I guess we have to legislate to be heard.  Absolutely the dumbest **** way to operate but thats what we have.  Welcome to the USA (network) sic.

Dec 14, 2011 8:03AM
This author's opinions are a mystery to me.  Product placement worse than offensive, annoying assaults on your ears?  Please!  This has been a problem too long.  If the advertisers and the broadcasters won't fix it, as much as I object to governmental interference in general, then I suppose it must be regulated.  They brought it on themselves.
This was supposed to be in effect in 2 days!!!  December 15th, 2011.  What happened to that???  The broadcast companies are forcing something on me that I didn't ask for.  Someone with some intelligence stop it now!  What a joke!
Dec 13, 2011 7:10PM
Great/  My wife is always complaining, about how loud the tv is.  Now she will just have to complain about me.  Good decision.  Now get the cable companies...........
Dec 13, 2011 8:47PM

..and the cable companies could "sound balance" as one comment suggested. But they advertise on tv too and they say..turn it up to tv video and sound editors :)


 As in Congress..the ones who should be responsible and step up to the plate ..are the very ones causing it.

Dec 13, 2011 6:56PM

Many people sleep with the TV on, either because they dozed off or because a family member turned it on when they were already asleep. If the main program is a movie with soft dialog and soft music, the volume may have been turned up to 50% of maximum to be audible. When that commercial break comes and "crazy mack" starts yelling out his used car deals that is a rude awakening indeed.

Personally, I'm glad for the volume reduction, because I have to get up to change the volume on my sound bar; and I don't care about brands being promoted by programs.  Who cares?  That doesn't make me buy/not buy a product.  It has no impact on me.  I'm a discerning consumer and I research things before buying.

What I would like for the FCC to do is to crack down on false advertising.  Case in point:  Maybelline's "Falsies" Mascara, shows a woman crunching up a package of false lashes while saying "no more false lashes needed," or something like that. But EVERY WOMAN in that commercial is wearing false eyelashes!  That is wrong.  And, does Sara Jessica Parker REALLY use the products she promotes (insert name of other celebrities promoting products)?  If not, I think it should state at the bottom of the ad that this person does not use these products, services, whatever.  I call all of that lying, short and simple.  And the car ads with the print so small you can't read it, plus there's no time to read it - it should be as big as all other print in the commercial.  Let's get lying and deception out of commercials.  Now that makes sense to me.
Dec 13, 2011 8:45PM

When I was at NBC I saw advertisers tell the editing dept to turn it up when they were viewing a new commercial for approval. Some just wanted it a little louder ot catch your attention and some want it to Slam You so you couldn't avoid hearing it. The station editor/sound man would do it because the advertisers demanded it. And since the news "is brought to you by..." it is all about the bucks and nothing about what is good, right, or about the news. If it isn't on the three or four national/international news stories they all ( the big three networks and then some ) download from Reuters, Ap and IP, there would be local news and the truth when they could dig some up, instead of stories designed to sell coffee. That's why when you channel surf during the news..they are all about the same story, just a slightly different video or copy. Sell cars, yes..sell the truth...hmm.


 In this case, and rarely elsewhere, the feds got it right. Nothing less would have stopped it. But...they gave the weasles a year to "cut that out".


 Gee...Now that's putting your foot down.

Dec 14, 2011 9:47AM

Jonathan Berr, you are an idiot!  Imagine watching a made for TV movie in surround sound and having to either change the channel or lower the sound every time a commerical comes on.  I for one am thrilled with piece of legislation.  The government finally got something right!  Other countries have already implemented this rule. 


Product placement is a non issue.  We've become so used to it that I really don't think anyone ever notices anymore.  So what if the Idol judges have Coke glasses in plain view, I still drink Pepsi.  Product placement has NEVER had any affect on my buying patterns.


The sooner the legislation to quiet commericals is implemented the better.  Then my husband won't have to pick me off the ceiling every time a commerical cuts into my viewing pleasure!

Dec 14, 2011 9:50AM

The part of the article that says loud commercials is not a problem, just turn the volume down is nuts.  Who wants to reach for the remote every 5 to 7 minutes.  Some shows have a low volume so you turn it way up.  Then a commercial comes on and blasts you out of the room.  It is really aggravating to have to constantly be running the volume up and down.  Hurray for the new law, but what took you so long and why do we have to wait a year.  Just do it!  - Oops, that sounds like a subliminal commercial.


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