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Eshoo Calls for CALM in TV Commercials

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) introduced a bill that would tackle head on the issue of annoyingly loud commercials and apply it directly to the TV industry.

The ad industry, at least according to one top executive, would be willing to go along with the idea, but it suggested that it would not require any new law, just Federal Communications Commission expertise.

The Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act -- you can thank Eshoo's chief of staff for the acronym -- which was introduced this week, would compel the FCC within one year of passage to enact rules "requiring television advertisements not be excessively noisy."

According to the language of the bill, it would "require the Federal Communications Commission to prescribe a standard to preclude commercials from being broadcast at louder volumes than the program material they accompany."

There is room for some interpretation in the bill, since one of its provisions is that the ad not be "excessively noisy or strident."

“Most Americans are not overjoyed to watch television commercials, but they are willing to tolerate them to sustain free over-the-air television. What annoys all of us is the sudden increase of volume when commercials are aired,” Eshoo said in announcing the bill, which would apply to ads on both broadcasting and cable.

She was joined in her attempt to turn down the volume on commercials by co-sponsor Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.).

Saying that consumers have lodged complaints for years at the commission about the loudness of commercials relative to the shows they appear in, the chief counsel to the American Association of Advertising Agencies said having FCC engineers come up with a standard might be the way to go.

"Perhaps the most practical solution is to rely on the judgment of the technical and engineering experts at the FCC to determine an acceptable sound range or standard for commercials and content alike," said Adonis Hoffman, senior vice president and general counsel of the AAAA.

"I’m not sure, but I suspect that the FCC may have that authority already given its technical standards-setting jurisdiction, not to mention its jurisdiction over broadcast licensees. If so, that might obviate the need for any new legislation," he told B&C. "If there are new standards to be developed, the advertising industry would want to be a part of the process and certainly would comply with the new rules.”

Eshoo is said to have been pondering such a bill for a while.

Although it might seem a long-shot in a Congress ready to turn its attention to getting re-elected, a source said the thinking is that it could be one of those issues -- like the do-not-call list -- that strikes a chord.