Toning Down Loud Ads

Screaming used-car salesmen on TV may become a thing of past — or, at any rate, they'll likely be shushed.

Technology vendors are looking to help cable operators manage the issue of commercials that are substantially louder than the programs that surround them, to prepare for the possibility that the Federal Communications Commission will establish regulations on this front.

“Blasting the volume in commercials has a long history,” said Eric Conley, CEO of video-monitoring systems vendor Mixed Signals. “Everybody complains about it, but it's been impractical to track until now.”

Mixed Signals has added a feature to its Sentry platform to monitor changes in volume level within hundreds of channels. The system is sensitive enough to detect a difference of one-tenth of a decibel, according to Conley.

Under legislation pending in the House of Representatives, cable operators and other video distributors would be required to ensure TV ads are not significantly louder than the programs they accompany. The bill, dubbed the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act, would give the FCC one year to adopt a technical standard that keeps the volume uniform between ads and programs and then give the industry a year after that to purchase and install the necessary equipment.

With the CALM bill in mind, Mixed Signals' Sentry monitoring platform now supports the International Telecommunication Union's ITU-R BS.1770 audio specification for measuring the loudness of video programs. That spec is expected to be adopted by the Advanced Television Systems Committee in the U.S.

Currently there's no automated way for a cable provider to equalize volume levels across a channel's programs and ads, according to Conley.

Audio-technology developer SRS Labs, meanwhile, is tackling the issue at the set-top. Last week the Santa Ana, Calif.-based company announced that its TruVolume algorithms — designed to eliminate volume fluctuations in TV programming — will be integrated with MPEG-4 single-chip decoders from STMicroelectronics for use in set-top boxes.

“The volume-leveling issue has been around for years in the home-entertainment industry,” Eric Jumelet, vice president of operations for STMicroeletronics' home-video division, said in a statement, touting SRS's TruVolume as “an efficient, elegant audio post-processing solution.”