House votes to turn down volume of noisy TV commercials

The House on Tuesday voted to level off the abrupt spikes in volume felt by television viewers during commercial breaks.

The bill — approved by a voice vote — is aimed at stopping TV ads from playing noticeably louder than programs.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Rep. Frederick Carlyle “Rick” Boucher, D-Va. “It’s an annoying experience, and something really should be done about it.”

Irritated by loud commercials, Rep. Anna Georges Eshoo, D-Calif., drafted the measure after discovering it was a common complaint with the Federal Communications Commission.

Right now, the government doesn’t have much say in the volume of TV ads. It’s been getting grievances about commercial loudness for decades.

Correcting sound levels has its complications.

Managing the transition between programs and ads without spoiling the artistic intent of the producers poses technical challenges and may require TV broadcasters to purchase new equipment. To address the issue, an industry organization recently produced guidelines on how to process, measure and transmit audio in a uniform way.

The bill requires the Federal Communications Commission to adopt those recommendations from the Advanced Television Systems Committee as regulations within a year and begin enforcing them a year later.

Eshoo said the legislation would force the industry to comply with their own standards. “Volunteerism hasn’t worked for 50 years,” she said.

Rep. Clifford Bundy “Cliff” Stearns Sr., R-Fla., addressed critics who have asked why Congress has to get involved in the matter.

“You can say, ‘Well, that’s fine. Just turn it off,’” Stearns said. “But it’s constantly an irritant when you have to do it. And we’ve got all the new bowl games coming up.”

An identical measure has been introduced in the Senate.

Some experts have said they are unsure whether viewers will notice much difference if the bills become law. Different volume levels can be part of storytelling. And some commercials may just seem noisy because they follow a quiet, intense scene.

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