CALM BeforeThe Storm?

Complete Coverage: NAB 2012

Progress toward implementing the Federal Communications Commission’s regulations for controlling the loudness of ads by the Dec. 13 deadline, mandated by the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act, is, at least for some, reminiscent of the digital switchover in June 2009.

“People are aware of the deadline, and NAB will be the launching point for a lot of new technologies to deal with the regulations,” says Chris Shaw, senior VP of sales and marketing at Cobalt Digital, which is offering a variety of solutions at this week’s NAB show. “But I get the feeling that it will go slowly until the last three months, when major panic will set in, just as it did with the digital rollout.”

As during the digital transition, the networks and larger stations have generally made more progress than smaller stations in meeting the deadline. “The networks started a couple of years ago, getting their houses in order, and now it is the station groups that are really active,” notes Paul Keller, product manager, Videotek test and measurement solutions, Harris Broadcast Communications, which has added loudness compliance to its Videotek MultiSource Analyzer product line.

Says Jeff Birch, VP of engineering at CBS Television Stations: “With a couple of rare exceptions, we have been compliant for over a year now.”

But a top engineer at a large owned-and-operated station at another network, who declined to be named, says, “We’ll make the deadline, but we’re making less headway than our lawyers would like.”

Others note some confusion over what the regulations require. “A lot of broadcasters are scratching their heads and wondering what compliance really means,” says Tim Carroll, president of Linear Acoustic, which offers a number of solutions to address the issue, including its Aero line of file-based loudness managers.

Marty Faubell, VP of engineering at Hearst Television, also stresses the importance of having the right compliance tools in place so Hearst can respond to complaints that might be received months after an ad has aired. “The tool set for responding to complaints after the fact is not yet established,” Faubell says. “How do you go back and prove or disprove compliance against it?”

On the vendor side, the fact that many different governments worldwide are implementing different types of regulations to control excessively loud audio spikes during commercials creates additional complexity in both hardware and software solutions. “The CALM Act is different from what they are doing in Europe, in Asia and the Arab states, and we have to be able to support all of those,” says Dave Letson, regional director of sales at Calrec Audio.

Other broadcasters that are compliant also say they would like to develop longer-term solutions that are better integrated with their overall workflows. Dave Siegler, VP of technical operations at Cox Media Group, explains: “We are CALM Act-compliant because we have a device on the output of our signal that levels out the audio. But that is not the right way to do it. It needs to be better managed in the upstream workflow.”

One less-discussed issue is the potential impact on overall audio quality if stations deploy the wrong tools. Some vendors note that a number of stations have taken the easy route of simply compressing the audio range prior to transmission.

“The easiest thing is to throw in a processor and set it for stun,” Carroll says. “You’ll be compliant, but it is not going to sound very good.”

And that could hurt the competitiveness of broadcasters vying for audiences who can also access highquality sound on their home theaters via Blu-ray discs or over-the-top content. “Over-the-top is not subject to the regulation,” notes Ralph Bachofen, VP of sales and head of marketing at Triveni Digital, which will be demonstrating a wide range of tools at NAB. “They can do whatever they like with the audio, and that is potentially a competitive disadvantage.”

The importance of high-quality audio to broadcasters’ overall competitive position also highlights the need to find the right CALM-compliance tools. “I think broadcasters are making good progress, [but] the issue needs to be addressed in different directions,” says Peter Pörs, managing director of Junger Audio, which is showcasing high-performance adaptive loudness solutions at NAB.

Rob France, senior product manager at Dolby, stresses the importance of addressing the problem at various points along the content creation and distribution chain. This is particularly important for producers, who have expressed concerns about the impact of compressed audio on their movies or TV series. “Some producers don’t want it compressed further down the chain and want to make sure it reaches the consumer as intended,” France says.

“All audio should be metered for loudness at origination, post-production, ingest and transmission,” adds Richard Kelley, director of sales and marketing at DK Technologies, which has supplied a major U.S. network with a number of loudness meters. “If loudness is checked at the source, maintaining that throughout the process is easier.”

Linear Acoustic’s Carroll also points to the importance of using metadata in the audio stream to manage and control audio levels through the broadcast infrastructure. “Metadata is the way to comply and ensure the quality is good,” he argues.

Responding to broadcasters’ concerns about documenting their compliance, Volicon is launching new loudness modules for logging and loudness measurement that provide an affidavit of compliance for regulators and advertisers.

Having streamlined tools to manage this is crucial, notes Erik Otto, CEO of Mediaproxy. The company will be at NAB touting loudness tools incorporated into Version 8 of its LogServer and LogServer ASI products. Version 8, he says, “supplies kind of a DVR to prove what they have been doing and makes it easy to access up to two years on the server.”

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