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CALM Act Update: No More Stalling, Time to Comply

It is now 2014 and the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act has been in effect for more than a year. Though it is no longer the hot topic it once was, it is being enforced, and there are real — potentially costly — consequences for carrying loud ads.

Though the CALM Act went into effect back in December 2012, operators could request up to two one-year extensions from the Federal Communications Commission to come into compliance. Except for larger MSOs, most operators were eligible for the extensions and were indeed granted them. However, with no more delays available and less than a year to meet the deadline, it is now time to get serious about getting into full compliance.

Fortunately, lessons learned by the top MSOs and their equipment vendors can help the majority of operators still pondering their CALM Act options.

To briefly recap, the CALM Act mandates that commercials air at a volume no louder than the programming they accompany. Failure to ensure this could result in the FCC levying fines — possibly substantial ones.

Compliance requires operators to have the proper equipment to monitor the volume of ads in order to identify any overly loud ones. Additionally, operators must be able to fully document the entire resolution process used to address each report of a loud ad, including when they were first alerted to a possible loud ad and the steps they took to fix it. The importance of these reports cannot be understated, as the FCC relies primarily on these in determining if a loud ad has occurred, if the necessary fixes have been implemented and if the event has been fully resolved.

While it’s tempting to believe that a government agency with fewer than 2,000 employees couldn’t possibly know when loud ads run, it’s important to know that the FCC relies on viewers to sound the alarm. And with a “neighborhood watch” of literally hundreds of millions of viewers, it’s hard for a loud ad to go unnoticed.

Indeed, having assisted many of the largest operators in complying with the CALM Act, we have heard first-hand of disgruntled viewers who are well-versed in using the FCC’s website to lodge complaints of ear-splitting ads. As you might expect, there have been instances of as few as one or two sensitive-eared viewers logging multiple complaints and causing considerable consternation for operators. Complicating matters, unlike some notable government websites, the FCC has made its site simple for viewers to use.

The message for operators is clear: It’s time to comply. After December 13, 2014, the previous exception path disappears and a subscriber complaint risks putting your service on the FCC’s radar screen.

Eben Jenkins is general manager of the video product line at test and measurement firm Tektronix.