December 23rd, 2009
05:25 PM ET
7 months ago

Bill would turn down volume of TV commercials

Washington (CNN) - It's after dinner. You're tired. You ease yourself into a comfortable place to watch your favorite TV show. Suddenly you're jolted from your couch potato demeanor by a commercial break.

It's an ad for insurance or rum or a credit card - and it's blaring, invading your calm and boosting your blood pressure.

Marketers want the loud commercials to grab viewers' attention.

A California congresswoman, however - and her fellow politicians in the House - find them more annoying than effective.

In her crusade to eliminate the nuisance, Rep. Anna Eshoo authored the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, or CALM, which mandates that TV commercials be no louder than the programs in which they appear.

Representatives unanimously passed the bill last month and sent it to the Senate for consideration.

The brief measure directs the Federal Communications Commission to develop regulations preventing ads from being "excessively noisy or strident" or "having modulation levels substantially higher than the accompanying program." The bill also addresses "average maximum loudness."

The volume of television commercials is a common complaint among viewers. One man told CNN, "Every time you put on the TV and try and watch a show, the next thing you get are these really loud commercials."

A woman added, "I usually mute the television."

"This is a dumb bill but I love it. I really do," said media analyst Mark Hughes. He said that for irritated Americans it strikes a nerve, even though it's not a huge political issue.

"It's important to people. And it's important in my household that I don't wake up the kids when they're sleeping, and I don't tick off my wife when she tells me to turn it down" because of a commercial's high volume.

Eshoo said she's been swamped with mail, e-mail and phone calls from people who have thanked her for the bill.

Political strategist John Ashford said there is some attraction to an issue that is manageable, as opposed to the complex issues Congress often struggles with.

"Having worked on Capitol Hill and now working in public relations, I know that when Congress can't solve big problems like Iraq and Afghanistan and 10 percent unemployment and how to implement this health care bill they are trying to pass, they turn to small problems like blasting television commercials.

Under the measure, advertisers and production houses would have one year to adopt technology that modulates and sets sound levels - and apply it to TV commercials.

The FCC will do its part, a source there said.

– CNN's Louise Schiavone contributed to this report.

soundoff (114 Responses)
  1. Jeff

    Is it that big of a deal? It's television. I respect the FCC regulating the content of programming, but this goes too far. Sure, the intention may well be sincere, but what about the underlying assumption that people are unable to help themselves? Particularly in situations where participation is voluntary. If it were regulation regarding the volume of advertisements playing out loud in a public place, it would be more appropriate. We should be ashamed that laws like this are concocted because of our own failure to remedy the situation.

    If the volume is such an issue, take it up with the cable company (if you, like me, don't have cable and watch broadcast, there is no grounds to complain on, as the service is free and voluntary). If they won't respond, take your business elsewhere, and maybe they'll get the idea. If it truly isn't withing their power to adjust the volume of the commercial (as may be the case due to the specifics of the contract with the advertizer) they can take it up with the advertizer.

    I'm getting tired of the administration taking a subject that annoys people and making a new law about it. Particularly when part of the reason the 'offending' party gets away with it is because the 'victim' party is unwilling to stand up and do anything about it themselves.

    What will the law of unintended consequences bring this time around? My guess would be higher cable bills, as limiting the effectiveness of advertisements will limit how much the advertiser will be willing to pay for a given slot. Or more commercials, or reduced quality of programming.

    December 23, 2009 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  2. Ken

    Yeah-hoo! This is something I think we can all get behind! I hope this one is a bi-partisan issue ... this is frankly the best news to come out of congress ... maybe ever!

    December 23, 2009 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  3. Mark

    I agree loud commercials are a pain. But I gotta believe our government has more important things to engage.

    December 23, 2009 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  4. B

    Seriously, why are any of our elected officials spending any of their time on this completely trivial issue!? I hate loud commercials. However, I feel strongly that no time or resources should be given over to this cause when far larger issues are very pressing at this time. This is insulting.

    December 23, 2009 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  5. Melissa

    GOOD. Its about time. This should have been done a long time ago. And screw the naysayers.

    December 23, 2009 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  6. KyMom

    Or you could just turn off the TV, get up off the couch, and go for a walk!

    December 23, 2009 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  7. Anonymous

    What is dumb is that this bill is required for the FCC to do anything about this HUGE inconvience and source of stress in every household in America, while the Comission is constantly presenting it's own legislation to censor what we choose to watch or hear. Where are thier priorities?? It is blantant herassment that is endorsed by the very body put in place to protect us. If this bill does not pass on 'the fast track' then I will have officially lost all faith in our governing system.

    December 23, 2009 05:48 pm at 5:48 pm |
  8. Eric from MI

    but then the republicans (midean age of around 65) wont be able to hear the commercials telling them to object to anything the dems come up with......this bill wont pass lol ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
    ZING!!

    December 23, 2009 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  9. Objective Thinking

    Sniffit quit trying to politicize everything in favor of Democrats. The article even specifies that the bill passsed unanimously–meaning Republicans voted in favor of it too. Take off your blue tinted glasses.

    December 23, 2009 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  10. southerncousin

    This would be great, but having a complete lack of faith and trust in the Congress and the administration after having been lied to so much during the past year, I am skeptical. I feel certain there will be some sort of provision exempting political ads, if not just liberal ads.

    December 23, 2009 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  11. Matt

    Wow – government intrusion? get a life...

    They're not legislating the volume that YOU can listen to the TV at.

    They're legislating that a third party cannot override the volume level that you have set. And if you really want to wax philosophical about this (which seems very unnecessary), one could argue that this is the precise role of government, protecting one party from the abusive actions of another. (yes i'm calling advertisers abusive)

    Relatively insiginificant problem? You bet... But it's still a good law and something the non-aluminimum foil hat wearing american's can get behind.

    December 23, 2009 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  12. John

    Wow, you guys still get TV? All I get is a blue screen after the bill where they removed analog and gave us all that wonderful digital!

    December 23, 2009 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  13. Bob

    This bill should include advertising on the internet also. They always come on at full volume causing you to have to mute the thing until it's over.

    December 23, 2009 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  14. Bob R., Lanham, Maryland

    CALM is a start but it DOES NOT GO FAR ENOUGH! CALM is just an appeasement. Ever listen to Survivor and like programs that blast us with dBs (volume) WITHIN THE PROGRAM, between conversational scenes. The "music," native drums, native screams, and the like blast my wife, me, and our cats. That noise contributes nothing to the program. I think they do that to pave the way advertisers to continue to blast us after CALM is passed. CALM does not go far enough!

    The TV manufacturers could easily add circuits to stop the excessive loudness but I think they are in the pocket of the advertisers. Ever hear of AVC (automatic volume control, which has been used in radio receivers for decades)?

    At 70 and 73, we paid our dues to be couch potatoes and dose off in front of the TV. The dammed attention-demanding intruders better just cool it! Being retired, I have plenty of time to write letters to Congressional Members and I do. That has had an effect. Try it. A letter is much more effective than and e-mail or phone call. The advertisers want out money but they should earn it by producing desirable products, not noise and hype.

    December 23, 2009 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  15. Brandonious

    Good!! About time. For those who say that this is "an attempt at control of our lives" or a waste of time or some other ridiculous nonsense, grow up. You are probably the same people who screamed their little heads off and ran crying to the FCC when Janet Jackson had her "wardrobe malfunction" during the Super Bowl a few years back. I guess it's only a good idea if the person bringing it up has the right letter behind their name, huh?

    December 23, 2009 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  16. Mark

    This law is already on the books. The FCC regulation/law currently states that the commercial can be no louder than the loudest explosion in the tv program. So we have to listen to a commercial at the loudest level of the tv program we are watching. If congress was really serious about passing another law it should be written so that the commercial can be no louder than the average level of the tv program. In other words, the commercial must blend in. Because big business controls our lives and our government I doubt this will ever happen.

    December 23, 2009 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  17. George Guadiane - Austerlitz, NY

    I HATE those loud commercials, there should be prison terms for failure to comply with that law, especially when I'm trying to take a nap!

    December 23, 2009 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  18. D. Tree

    thank you!

    December 23, 2009 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  19. Jayson

    An actual good idea. Viewers should not have to adjust the volume every time the commercials come on due to a noticeable difference in volume levels

    December 23, 2009 06:03 pm at 6:03 pm |
  20. Jane/Seattle

    Bad enough we have to pay for TV without having to pay for visual and audio assaults as well! Did I forget to mention that I seldom even watch TV? I don't very much as much of it is sooooo predictable!.

    December 23, 2009 06:06 pm at 6:06 pm |
  21. independent

    Finally!!! (see you don't have to SHOUT to get attention). Some, but certainly not all, of the best entertainment on TV are the commercials. If this becomes law, the advertisers will have to try entertaining us instead of shouting at us. How can that be bad?

    For you neo-cons: The airwaves belong to the public. We get to regulate them. Many neo-cons want no sexual references or swear words on TV. So how is this regulation different?

    December 23, 2009 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
  22. NVa Native

    Yes, another politician (Dem of course) who actually wants things to be better for the public, not the special interests who give them piles of money.
    And yes, the morons who think driving in the rain without their headlights on is their "right" should loose their privlige to drive (and breed).

    December 23, 2009 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  23. Bob

    This bill should include advertising on the internet also. They always come on at full volume causing you to have to mute the thing until it's over.

    I just read some of the comments. They are lame at best. These commercials are annoying period. I always hit the mute button when they come on TV or on the internet. I don't have cable, and it is not their doing anyway. If the advertisers think that people pay attention to this junk when it's so loud you can't even think about it they are nuts! The mute button works great but it too is something that should not be necessary.

    It's sad that there has to be legislation to cure this stupidity on the part of the advertisers. If the volume was at a respectable level, ie the same as the programming, then maybe people wouldn't get upset and legislation would never have been introduced in the first place.

    December 23, 2009 06:17 pm at 6:17 pm |
  24. Ellen

    I hate those pharmaceutical ad with a purple passion, especially since they run them 4 or five in a row. So I automatically tune them out and decide I will never use or ask my doctor for those medications.

    December 23, 2009 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  25. Gerry NH

    Whow this is very improtant. There should be a 3 month study on this important issue.

    Priority
    1. Loud commercials
    2. Put radiation signs on cell phones
    3. Senate pay raises

    15 Jobs and the ecomomy

    December 23, 2009 06:35 pm at 6:35 pm |
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