FCC Approves CALM Act Rules

The FCC voted Tuesday on rules implementing the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act, which prevents TV ads from being delivered at greater volume than the programs surrounding them.

As reported by B&C/Multi, the FCC will make cable operators responsible for the volume of both national and local ads, as well as promos, while TV stations will also be responsible for the national network and syndicated ads, as well as promos and local ads, both on broadcast and on the signals they deliver to cable operators. That means if a cable operator delivers a TV station ad that violates the act, it is the broadcaster who is responsible.

But the final order includes some flexibility for operators and stations to comply with their responsibility over the "imbedded" ads they pass along from program distributors up the chain. They will be considered in compliance if they "install, utilize and maintain" the requisite equipment and software, or they have a certification from the distributor of the ad that it complies with the recommended ATSC standard that the FCC is making mandatory.

Larger operators will be required to do annual spot-checking of commercials for the first two years, after which that requirement sunsets. Smaller operators and stations will not have to spot check, but stations and operators or all sizes must test in response to a "pattern or trend" of complaints -- rather than, say, a single complaint -- involving their station or system.

Smaller operators will have the opportunity to seek hardship waivers and will not be required to purchase equipment, though they will still be responsible for any proven violations.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association got a shout-out from Commissioner Michael Copps for working with the FCC to resolve some of their issues, which included operator's liability for national commercials inserted by others.

The industry has a year to come into compliance with the new rules.

"I'm proud to have led the charge to pass the CALM Act, which will give consumers the relief they've clamored for. TV stations now have the responsibility to turn down the volume on excessively loud commercials, and it's about time," said Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.).  "The law I wrote is simple -- the volume of television commercials cannot be louder than regular programming. Households across the country will soon get the relief they deserve from the annoyance of blaringly loud television commercials." Commissioner Mike Copps gave Eshoo a shout-out during the meeting.

It was Commissioner Copps' last meeting -- he is exiting the commission at the end of the year to continue his battle for less concentrated, more local, media from outside the government. He was hailed by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski as leader, spirited public servant, and as a mentor -- there was a ceremony Tuesday to unveil Copps' portrait at FCC headquarters alongside other past commissioners. "Rest assured we will still have Copps on the beat," said the chairman."

He said it was a "wonderful thing" that Copps' successor would be his former aide, Jessica Rosenworcel.

Commissioners Robert McDowell and Mignon Clyburn held back tears, and sometimes didn't, as they praised Copps. McDowell called him a stateman and "my favorite principled liberal." He pointed out that during Copps' six-month acting chairmanship, they voted together 100% of the time.

Copps thanked his colleagues, staff, and family. He said he would continue to talk about the level of threat to news and the media, though he said he would spare his audience his media ownership speech. He called his service a "precious and wonderful opportunity."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.