Maybe you’ve been here before: You’re all tucked in and comfy and watching an old rerun of your favorite 90’s comedy when the station goes to commercial and the volume jumps loud enough to rattle the walls and wake up your sleeping dog. If you’ve noticed how loud commercials seem to be, you’re not alone; enough people noticed that Congress was compelled to pass the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act (CALM). So now that CALM has been put into effect we can all go back to quietly watching Seinfeld, right? Probably not.
Once the CALM Act was passed, the FCC gave TV stations and other television providers until December of 2012 to comply with rules requiring commercials to have the same average volume as the programs in which they are placed. Exemptions were made for organizations that would be under too great of a financial burden to comply with the rules; they could apply for a limited-time waiver, which could be reviewed and possibly extended after a year. So, assuming the majority of stations were not exempt from the rules, why do some commercials still seem so loud? One theory has to do with perception.
When a camera flash goes off, your eyes experience a brief, virtually unnoticeable moment of ocular discomfort, but when a strobe light is flashing in your eyes repeatedly, it is an entirely different feeling. The same concept applies to sound. Even if they are played at equal volume, a calmly spoken voice-over accompanied by gentle music sounds significantly quieter than rapid speech backed up by frantic music. This accounts for why, even when commercials do comply with FCC regulations, they can still be perceived as louder than what you were already watching.
So, thanks to Congress for trying – the effort is sincerely appreciated by sleeping dogs all over the country – but it doesn’t seem like a quiet evening in front of the TV can be easily mandated.