TV Ads Are Way Too Loud, But That Probably Won’t Change

by on June 30, 2010

in Entertainment

TV Commercials Are Too Loud

Loud TV AdsWe all know it for a fact.  Our ears demonstrate to us that TV ads are way too loud.  Despite the TV consumer making noise day-in and day-out about it, I’m not sure that may ever change.

Here’s the crux about loud TV commercials:  Consumers say they’re too loud yet networks (& the FCC) say they’re no louder than the loudest part of the TV show they’re being shown in.   In a polite, round about way, it seems they’re saying they don’t care because it only seems that ads are loud due to a technicality called “Dynamic Range Compression.”

Dynamic Range Compression is used to reduce the recorded noise that goes out over certain levels.  The process works over the high-points of the data, but do nothing to modify the quieter sounds.  Though it doesn’t seem to make sense, the way this modification does work is that after processing, advertisers can take extreme liberal advantage of the mid-range tones to exploit our ears because those tones are not impacted by the compression techniques.

As far as I’m concerned, even though they (the entire industry behind TV and the ads that support them) say that technically the ads are not louder, I’m calling them out and saying I don’t believe them!  They are louder.  They come out louder through my TV speakers and they force me to reduce the volume of my television set so that they don’t blast my neighbors out, and aren’t so annoying to myself.  If they weren’t louder, I would not be turning down the volume of my TV anywhere from 15-30% to keep the ads on the same noise level as the TV show I’m watching.

There are times when I’m watching a movie and have it cranked up to “25” to hear the conversation parts of the plot, but then finding myself turning my TV down to “16” to not blast myself out and have the ads seem to be the same volume as the movie.  No the ads aren’t LOUDER.  Of course, those weren’t upper case letters I just used either.  I merely made it seem like you were closer to the printed web page so they seemed larger.

TV Ads Work For ‘Them’ And We’re Stuck With It

The sad part about advertising is that it works.  If it didn’t, it wouldn’t happen.  And as the advertisers have learned, even though some of us hate those loud TV ads, those louder ads work to sway consumer opinion enough to make advertising and marketing a profitable business.  If it weren’t profitable, advertisers would not drop $8 billion on ads for the 2010-2011 TV season.  Yes, that’s an eight, and that was billion.  In U.S. dollars.  There was no typo there!

While we suffer from some excessively loud ads, the television industry smiles like a Cheshire cat and tell you it’s no louder.  As far as I can tell, I’d like to warn you, my reader to not be fooled by the term television industry.  That term seems to be a misnomer, as it should truly be called the advertising industry.  I say that because it’s advertisers that control every aspect of the TV you watch.  They’re the ones that pay the network’s bills.

Yet, TV Ads Are Necessary

To sum up it up, compression is used to increase the average level of the sound, effectively making it louder.  There have been multiple efforts to quiet TV ads but I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon.  I say that not because I love being blasted out by my own television, but that these ads pay the bills and are an important aspect of us actually getting to watch our favorite TV series

If it weren’t for advertisers, we’d have about 2 channels of consumer supported television, and we see what that has achieved for public service networks.  They struggle year in and year out trying to make ends meet while everyone watches and no one contributes.  The ads support our entertainment, and hence, why TV ratings are so very important to a show and its network.

If a show doesn’t get enough eyeballs on it, advertisers don’t care about it.  Then advertisers pay the networks to have their shows and run their NOT LOUD ads during their shows.  They then capture customers via the ads.  If they can’t capture the desirable number of viewers, the network dumps the show because advertisers won’t pay for it.  They need to keep the advertisers happy while trying desperately to keep the viewers happy.  But don’t fool yourself.  The viewer’s happiness is just a side affect to the underlying industry that keeps TV going.

As I was writing this, a new article came out talking about the CALM act (Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act), which has finally been approved for full Senate review.  The bill will force the industry to adhere “with uniform operating strategies that will optimize the audience listening experience by eliminating large changes in sound levels”.

But…

It’s also been acknowledged in the bill that somehow, the adhering of the bill by the television industry would be a very costly compliance, causing financial hardship.  Wow, the excuses did not already start, but were included in the bill.   It also talks about the use of some patented invention.

There seems to be fishy round-about chat before it even gets going, but it’s a start.

Yet I don’t hold my breath.

Devil’s Advocate

So tell me, if your sole survival to put food on the table and keep your family happy depended on your client that just gave you $8 billion dollars to do what you’ve always been doing, will you then run with that $8 billion, then at the request of the viewers, who pay you next to nothing via cable & satellite TV, clamp down on how the ads are televised?  Basically, the question is, do you want to stay in business or start looking for a cardboard box for you and your dog?

Yes, I run ads on my site.  But I draw the line at what kinds of ads you are exposed to.  I deliver advertising content that would not bother me when I come across a website.  I hate sites that pummel me with ads that pop up in your face when your mouse crosses a linked word or have full pop up pages, or pop-overs or other various tricky ad mechanics that crawls across your screen at the top or bottom.  I’m not singling out any one site, there are dozens upon dozens of sites that run like that.

As far as I’m concerned, that kind of advertising won’t be happening anytime soon here on Brusimm.com.  The ads I deliver are what I would like to call “Option ads.”  If it’s interesting to you, it is your choice, or option, to pursue the link.  If not, you’re not forced to endure the noise.  Plain and simple.  And yes, using the Amazon links or Google links to check things out helps me and my site stay afloat, but I’d rather it be that way and have it be your choice.  In that way, I’m truly more grateful to those of you who come by and to those of you who actually endure my water cooler-like rants.  (Heck, have you actually made it this far down here?  Cool!)

So!?  Curious about that $8 billion I kept chatting about?  Check out my article on Advertising and the $8 Billion spent for the 2010-2011 TV Season.

Thanks for coming by!  I hope you enjoyed my rueful piece of opinion!

Sources: Lawmakers Attempt To Turn Down the Ad Volume, Senate Comittee Tries To Hit The Mute Button, MSNBC, Associated Content, Dolby.com, SF GateMSNBC, Dolby Investor News, Yahoo News, On Line Athens, TVB

If so inclined, You can follow Cinema Static on Twitter, or on SoB Consumer on Twitter.

About 

Bruce has been been writing for the web since 1999. He likes to take a more pragmatic approach to most of the news and marketing that gets floated out there while still keeping a light tone about it.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jake April 26, 2011 at 6:52 pm

I’m with Pat!
If they can make televisions that keep volume the same why can’t they just filter the ad through something else to diminish its annoying effects?

pat July 31, 2010 at 7:19 pm

Ok if it’s not going to change, then why doesn’t some electronic genius come up with a little black box that can be attached to a tv to solve this problem?

Bruce Simmons (BruSimm) July 28, 2010 at 6:26 am

Thanks Cornelius! I appreciate the insider’s perspective on the issue and you make a great point… they need to control the perceived volume, not the technical volume. – Bruce!

Cornelius July 28, 2010 at 12:57 am

Actually, compressors do a lot to the lower level sounds. Limiters do what you are describing; they stop the amplitude from going over a certain level. So, were a limiter to be used on the audio track of a commercial, all it would do is to stop it from getting t0o loud. It does nothing to the stuff that is lower in volume.

However, what compressors do is to compress the dynamic range of an audio track. Not only do they keep the signal from being too loud, they also keep it from being too quiet. They “squish” the dynamic range, in other words. That’s what compression does. It evens everything out. So really loud sounds are lowered in volume, but quiet sounds are boosted in volume, and made louder.

Many an honest but sound- ignorant DJ, for example, has said to many a complaining listener that the commercials are not any louder than the rest of the program, according to the meters that help them regulate such things, and they were telling the truth, as far as they could see it. The meters didn’t go any higher, therefore the commercials were no louder.

What they failed to notice, however, was that the meters on such compressed audio tracks continually hovered right at the loudest point of their regular programming. On normal music, for instance, the meter would be jumping all over the place, in fact falling all the way to zero when there was a break in the music. In loud commercials, however, there WERE no breaks, or quiet spots, so while the meter never went higher than the point it did with the regular programming, neither would it go much below it. EVERYTHING that happened in the commercial was at close to the same volume, and since so many more things were as loud as the loudest parts of the regular programming, it is no wonder our ears perceive the commercials as being a lot louder. And while some may say radio is not television, or computer audio, the principle holds true.

By the way, I read something about Congress enacting a bill regarding this, and while I actually laud their intent, it will change nothing, unless they can somehow regulate perceived volume, rather than measurable volume. According to db meters and so on, the claims of the commercial makers that their commercials are no louder than the loudest points of a program are absolutely correct. It’s not quite the same as saying cereal is too expensive. :)

And, yes, in case it remains in doubt, I too think commercials are too loud. It’s just that I well know how it is accomplished, and that it really can’t be measured very well, except by our perception of it. Meters are not ears, after all.

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