Unlike yesterday's recommendation from the National Transportation Safety Board to ban all mobile phone use in cars, the TV tech-focused CALM Act finalized by the Federal Communications Commission will be the stuff of universal celebration.
It's hard to get the U.S. Congress and federal bureaucrats to agree on anything - even that the sun will rise. Yet last year the U.S. Senate (in September) then the House of Representatives (in December) unanimously voted in the Commercial Advertising Loudness Mitigation Act.
And yesterday, two days before the imposed deadline, the FCC unanimously passed the rules which TV stations and cable/satellite systems will soon have to follow with CALM - to make sure viewers are no longer inflicted with commercials that SHOUT at obnoxious levels about that CAN'T MISS SALE OF THE CENTURY (or weekend.)
The mismatching of audio volume levels between programming and advertising has been a sore point for decades. The problem has gotten worse in the age of digital TV, wherein picture and sound signals are sent separately and the latter now has a much broader dynamic (or loudness) range potential.
The CALM Act and the FCC's policy focuses on a recommendation from the Advanced Television System Committee, the same group which established the digital TV standard. Rather than allowing commercials to run consistently at the non-distorting peak volume level - the current bad practice - the rule will require advertisements to stay within close range of the "anchor element" of the show - typically the spoken dialogue.
The ATSC's A/85 Practice offers guidelines to networks about show/commercial audo level balancing, but ihe FCC will leave enforcement to local broadcast stations and cable/satellite delivery companies. That's a wise move, as most of the mismatching occurs when non-network commercials are inserted. Or becomes obvious when a viewer is switching from channel-to-channel.
Also a good thing, it doesn't appear that the FCC is demanding that program broadcasters and distributors put limiters on their systems to squash the dynamic range of all content, as radio broadcasters regularly do. TV limiters could be especially damaging to the audio drama of action films and crime series, which creep up quietly then shock us with sudden explosions of sound. Instead, the FCC ruling calls for the installation of equipment which monitors programming - 100 percent of the time for the first two years - and requires the monitoring agent to quickly fix non-compliant elements. Or else? Penalties for infractions have not been set.
The U.S is playing catch-up with the rest of the world, here. TV volume restrictions are already in place in Britain, France, Brazil, Israel and Russia. Still, the FCC will give the concerned parties another full year to acquire the monitoring gear and get their act right.