Cable deserves the CALM Act for letting itself get played.
Decades and decades ago, TV viewers began to treat commercial breaks not as extraordinary opportunities to increase their brand loyalty as was their duty, but as opportunities for unauthorized activities that took them out of earshot of their TVs, such as fetching bowls of crab meat & Jell-o salad.
In retaliation, advertisers increased the volume of their ads so that there would be no corner of TV viewers’ domiciles they might skulk off to and miss some vital information about cold cream or toy automatic weapons.
If viewers don’t care enough about an ad to stay put, they’re certainly not going to be happy being chased by the audio into the far reaches of their homes. And if they do stay put, they get the unpleasant experience of having their ears blasted.
Viewers have complained about this for decades, first to their broadcast stations, and then also to their pay-TV providers.
Remember about 15 years ago when the airlines wanted to cram in more passengers per flight, and they started pushing their seats together so that passengers had less room? And everybody started complaining about how they had less room, less space, less area, and the airlines all said, “No, no, no, you’ve got the same room/space/area.” And we all knew they were lying because we had less legroom. And then finally some clever reporter asked the airlines about “seating pitch.”
“Oh-h-h-h-h-h-h,” said the airlines. “The seating pitch? Yeah, we changed the seating pitch, yeah. There’s a smaller seating pitch now.”
So they weren’t actually lying, they just had some special terminology. But they were being complete jerks, because they knew what we meant.
When TV viewers complain about loud commercials, the response from the TV industry has always been, “No, no, no, no, it’s not louder.”
And it wasn’t volume; it was modulation levels, or frequency saturation, or whatever. Or, if you will, being a bunch of jerks because we all knew what people were talking about.
It’s amazing, really, that the industry has managed to avoid having to do anything about loud commercials for so very, very long, but now comes Congress with its new Commercial Advertising Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act.
Nobody likes to be regulated because the risk associated with even the most justifiable of regulations is that it can have horrible unintended consequences. So the TV industry is trying to obviate CALM as quickly as possible by coming up with a counter-proposal, some technological fix that will satisfy Congress enough to withdraw the bill.
A group of broadcasters, MSOs, equipment vendors, and even some consumer electronics manufacturers are reportedly scrambling on that right now.
And they will find a technological fix, maybe several. That’s not in doubt, though there might be some question whether a fix can be introduced in time to head off the legislation.
But no matter if the fix is voluntary or mandated, service providers will end up having to re-encode ads with new sound levels that conform to the sound levels of the surrounding programs.
Of course, if the industry really wanted to effectively head off the legislation, they could have been re-encoding the sound levels of incoming ads all along. But the industry didn’t.
And we all know why: because broadcasters and pay-TV providers get their money from advertisers, and if our choice is between aggravating our viewers or crossing our real customers? Well, then.
Leveling with the public has always been risky, and no more so than today, when so many people seem downright eager to deliberately misunderstand what they’re being told. On the other hand, if the TV industry had tried to level with people – in and out of Congress – all along, maybe the onus of CALM would have been on the people who are actually causing the problem: the advertisers.
It’s the advertisers, after all, who are the biggest jerks in all of this, because not only are they deliberately recording ads that are too loud, but they’re also setting up broadcasters as the patsies for their misdeeds.
Advertisers could make this whole thing disappear tomorrow by agreeing to record their ads at reasonable volume levels, relieving the industry from having to waste their resources. But no, broadcasters get to screw around, waste time and spend money on audio monitoring and audio re-encoding. Broadcasters could have been Bogart in “The Maltese Falcon.” Instead, we’re William Hurt in “Body Heat.”
And while I’m demonstrating a total lack of sympathy, let’s make this harder for everybody:
Advertisers are pulling the same trick with Internet-based video. This practice is aggravating enough in front of a TV for which I have a remote control with a MUTE button; I don’t know about you, but I do not have a handy MUTE button on my computer, and I suspect many other people have a similar lack. I think the CALM Act should cover ads in Internet-based video, too.