Federal rule aims to keep TV commercials at same volume as programs

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski says his agency has received almost 6,000 complaints about loud ads since 2008,

Story highlights

  • Rule prohibits high-volume TV commercials
  • Limits come in response to viewer complaints
  • Broadcast technical standards will level the volume
Television commercials that are a lot louder than the program will be prohibited under rules adopted Tuesday by the Federal Communications Commission.
"Under our new rules, TV providers must ensure that the average loudness of commercials will be no higher than the average volume of the programming they accompany," said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski after a vote to approve the proposal.
It may take a while to get people out of the habit of hitting the mute button on the remote control, since the rules limiting spikes in volume don't take effect for a year. The transition is designed to allow programmers to find ways to smooth differences in audio level, through automatic volume control or re-recording commercials that would fail the loudness test.
The agency chief said "the Commission has received almost 6,000 complaints about loud commercials since 2008," but it took congressional legislation to grant the FCC the authority to act on the problem.
That authority was contained in the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation, or CALM, Act, authored by California Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo. She issued a statement Tuesday saying, "TV stations now have the responsibility to turn down the volume on excessively loud commercials, and it's about time."
For years the problem of loud TV commercials has been blamed on programmers who thought it was a way to draw attention to the advertising. But the FCC's advice, until now, was limited to recommending viewers use the mute button when the annoyance began.
The National Association of Broadcasters, a trade group representing commercial television and radio stations, expressed a willingness to encourage its members to go along with the new rules.
"We think the FCC struck the right balance in implementing the CALM Act, and look forward to working with them," said NAB Executive Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton.
Eshoo, the California congresswoman, suggested viewers will find it easy to tell if a TV ad breaks the rule because "the law I wrote is simple -- the volume of television commercials cannot be louder than regular programming."
Under the rules approved by the FCC, television broadcast stations, cable operators and other multichannel video programming distributors are required to comply with the FCC's rules within one year, unless they are granted a waiver.