WASHINGTON, DC -- You're watching something on television. All the sudden, a commercial break begins and you're blown out of your seat by the abrupt increase in audio volume. Perhaps a family member yells at you to turn down the TV, even though you never turned it up in the first place. Thanks to some new FCC regulations, viewers are counting down to the end of that annoying phenomenon.
Earlier this week, the Federal Communications Commission defined exactly how television content providers -- both broadcasters and cable networks alike -- will be expected to comply with the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act, which was passed by Congress and signed by the President last year.
The FCC said in a press release, the new rules will "require that commercials have the same average volume as the programs they accompany." Despite receiving many citizen complaints regarding inconsistent audio levels on TV, the FCC says it dit not have the power "to address the problem of excessive commercial loudness" prior to the CALM Act's passage.
The report and order was offically issued on Tuesday, giving content providers a full year -- until December 13, 2012 -- to come into compliance with the new regulations. "While consumer complaints about loud commercials have diminished since 2009," the Commission said, "we expect that these new rules will reduce loudness complaints still further."
While the press release describes the new regulation in layman's terms, the full Report and Order gets into the technical side of the new regulations. The regulations will require video content providers to embed a "dialnorm" (short for "dialog normalization") number into the metadata of their digital video streams.
All of the proverbial magic then happens right within your home -- your digital TV receiver reads the metadata and adjusts the volume accordingly, on-the-fly, as the station you're watching transitions between programming, network commercials, local commercials, and back to programming.
Here are excerpts of the exact wording from the Report and Order:
Compliance ... requires industry to use the International Telecommunication Union Radiocommunication Sector (“ITU-R”) Recommendation BS.1770 measurement algorithm. The ITU-R BS.1770 measurement algorithm provides a numerical value that indicates the perceived loudness of the content measured in units of “LKFS” by averaging the loudness of audio signals in all channels over the duration of the content. (...) That value is called “dialnorm” (short for “Dialog Normalization”) and is to be encoded as metadata into the audio stream required for digital broadcast television. Stations/MVPDs transmit the dialnorm to the consumer’s reception equipment.
The “golden rule” ... is that the dialnorm value must correctly identify the loudness of the content it accompanies in order to prevent excessive loudness variation during content transitions on a channel (e.g., TV program to commercial) or when changing channels. If the dialnorm value is correctly encoded—if it matches the loudness of the content, which depends in turn on accurate
loudness measurements—the consumer’s receiver will adjust the volume automatically to avoid spikes in loudness.
The FCC says that the one-year countdown should provide enough time for stations, networks and other businesses impacted by these regulations to purchase, install and configure any new equipment required to achieve compliance.
Stations capable of demonstrating that a financial hardship prevents them from obtaining the proper equipment before the deadline can file for a one-year waiver. The report and order says an additional one-year waiver can be added if a station can prove continued hardship.
Because the regulations rely on digital technologies, analog TV stations are exempt. However, the only analog TV stations still in operation are low-powered stations which were exempt from the major DTV conversion of 2009. LPTVs using channels 52-69 have until the end of this year to go digital, while LPTVs broadcasting on channels 51 or below have until the end of 2015.