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New Rules Speak Volumes

Look for TV stations and cable operators to start pumping up their efforts to gain commercial loudness guarantees in syndication deals, affiliate contracts and program contracts. The FCC last week approved rules by which stations and cable systems must comply with the CALM (Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation) Act, the law that requires the average volume of a commercial to be no louder than the average volume of the programming that surrounds it. The industry has a year to come into compliance.

The FCC is requiring TV stations and cable systems to be responsible for the volume of national ads and network promos, as well as local ads. For the latter, they must demonstrate they have equipment to regularize the volume. But the FCC has given two options for compliance with their responsibility for the “embedded” ads passed along by networks and syndicators.

One method is through certifications from folks up the production chain that their ads are in compliance: Certification that the station and operator have no reason to doubt that compliance, and certifi cation that they have working equipment to pass the complying ad along to viewers.

The other option for larger stations and multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) is to conduct annual, 24-hour spot checks of non-certified programming. Stations with more than $14 million in annual receipts and the top four MVPDs with 10 million-plus subs must spot check all non-certifi ed programming.

The 5th through 15th-ranked MVPDs—those with at least 400,000 subs but less than 10 million—must spot check 50% of non-certified programming. Smaller stations and MVPDs are exempt from spot checks.

Getting stations to secure that certification from national programmers is also a way for the FCC to get around the limits of its authority. The commission’s licensing authority gives it regulatory clout over stations and cable operators, but programmers are beyond its reach, so the certification by programmers cannot be mandated. Now it will be up to the locals to make sure their suppliers are in line, or face potential fines.

FCC bureau chief Bill Lake said the agency has received complaints about loud commercials for years, but it was only through digital means that it became feasible to do something about it.

FCC commissioner Robert McDowell could not help having a little fun with the item. He began his statement by shouting: “TODAY WE IMPLEMENT THE CALM ACT!”, then added: “TV commercials, such as those for OxyClean, ShamWow!, HeadOn and the like will never be the same.”

Here are some of the other basics of the FCC’s new rules, as explained by a commission staffer last week. The CALM Act:

1. Mandates the ATSC recommended practice for commercial loudness.

2. FCC enforcement bureau will only contact a station or MVPD after it has received a “pattern” or “trend” of complaints.

3. Annual spot checks for commercial loudness sunset after two years if no noncompliance is found.

4. If a pattern of complaints is received by the FCC, however, a 24-hour spot check of certified and non-certified programming must be conducted, no matter the station/MVPD’s size.

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