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TV Commercials – Why Are They so Loud?

We have all been there. You’re enjoying your favorite show, and this episode is reaching a suspenseful climax. Nothing could distract you from this storyline, and you are hanging on every word. It’s almost as if you are holding your breath.

And then a boisterous commercial break arrives, snapping you out of your focus on this compelling story. Now you are jolted into reality with a jingle about laundry detergent or with an aggressive political ad. Is it just you, or are commercials so much louder than the programs?

Your observation is correct; TV commercials are loud. But this is an intentional choice, governed by the law in the United States and around the world. Loud commercials can disrupt the experience for any television watcher, but once you know the reasons behind them you may better understand this trend. So why are commercials so loud?

Why Are TV Commercials so Loud?

So, why are commercials so loud? If you believe your television commercials are too loud, you are not alone. There are both real and perceived reasons why the advertisements on your television sound exceptionally intense.

A few important factors to help you understand why your television commercials seem so loud. One thing to determine is if the loud commercial appeared on a streaming service or standard broadcast television. Also, it’s important to remember the limits of the Federal Communications Commission or FCC.

Loud Ads on Streaming Services

Since 2011, the United States Congress has set formal standards for the acceptable average volume of television commercials. This legislation, called the CALM Act, uses the research of sound-industry experts to determine these limits. 

Network broadcast television and cable providers fall under the jurisdiction of the FCC. This government body monitors radio waves and wires to standardize broadcast ethics for things like radio and television. The FCC can penalize network television and cable providers for violating the average acceptable standard for commercial volume.

However, the rise of streaming services bypassed any sort of government regulation. Because streaming services use the Internet, they do not depend on established, government-regulated systems. Therefore standards like the acceptable average volume for commercials do not apply to streaming services.

If you are watching a program on Hulu, Disney+, or HBO Max, there is nothing an average consumer can do about loud commercials. 

Unlike network television companies like NBC or ABC which are regulated by the federal government, streaming services are fully owned and operated by private individuals like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos or the Disney Corporation. It will be difficult to predict if any regulation will influence these services, as the television landscape continues to change.

The Limits of the FCC

As previously mentioned, the FCC’s power is limited based on how the media is broadcast. However, the FCC’s influence runs into other roadblocks too.

The 2011 CALM Act provides a rational and pragmatic approach to normalizing the volume of television commercials. Congress chose a group of industry professionals and elevated their expert research as the new national standard for audio engineering broadcast on publicly-regulated channels. This research, called A/85, forms the majority of the CALM Act. 

However, any legislation passed requires oversight and adequate support to deliver on its promises. Unfortunately, like many bills passed through the United States Congress, the law can fall apart when it meets the real world. While a straightforward bill, some critics claim the CALM Act is failing to do its job.

Concerned TV watchers reported too-loud commercials to the FCC, with nearly 50,000 complaints submitted between 2012 to 2019. However, there has been no documented follow-up on these complaints.

However, if you are watching an advertisement on standard broadcast media, you can file an FCC complaint. There is no cost to file a formal complaint with the FCC. The following items are important to include in your complaint:

  • Name of broadcast station or cable/satellite provider
  • Name of a specific network or cable channel
  • Name of product or advertiser
  • Time and date of loud commercials
  • Name of TV program which contained the ad in its commercial break

It’s Not Just You, Commercials Get Louder Each Year

With the rise of streaming services, television advertisements are loud and getting louder. But that doesn’t mean this issue is going to be unregulated forever. The Audio Engineering Society is currently on the case to solve the issue of obnoxious advertisements on streaming services. 

The Audio Engineering Society represents a group of audio industry experts establishing standards for audio broadcasting in the country. This committee is the same individuals who developed the standards adopted by 2012’s CALM Act. 

You interact with the work of the AES when every artist at a music festival performs at the same volume or when you change the TV channel and don’t need to adjust the volume.

The Audio Engineering Society is hard at work designing new volume standards for streaming services. When this is complete, it may drastically improve the audio standard for products like Paramount Plus or Apple TV.

Owners of streaming services do not want to encounter any regulation or be forced to perform under a new audio standard. Previous attempts to enact legislation similar to the CALM Act, aimed at streaming services, have been unsuccessful.

New standards for audio take time to develop and adopt. So, one of the ways to mitigate this volume issue is by checking out the settings on your television. Many TVs and home theater sound systems offer advanced settings to control audio compression and other stabilizing options.

What Is Loudness?

The concept of ‘loud’ refers to the acoustic perception of sound pressure. Adult humans with the normal hearing tune in best to sounds in the two to four-kilohertz range. 

Once a sound exceeds the four kHz range, the pressure starts to become too much – this can result in acute pain and short-term hearing loss. Repeated exposure to high decibel audio can permanently damage your hearing. People who attend loud concerts regularly or work in construction are advised to wear hearing protection in raucous environments.

When hearing damage occurs, people cannot accurately gauge the loudness of the sound. Sounds near the two kHz range are now impossible to discern, while audio over the four kHz range is no longer difficult to tolerate.

Every different industry measures sound and loudness in its way. Broadcast television and movies weigh audio using their specific loudness units, called ITU-R BS.1770. These units provide the basis for the CALM Act and the work of the Audio Engineering Society.

But why are advertising doing this? Read our article on why advertisers create loud ads here to learn more.

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