Freedom from Earsplitting Ads: The CALM Act Goes Into Effect

CALM Act Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation
CALM Act Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation

After 12 months of waiting for the rules to go into effect, Americans will finally begin to enjoy the benefits of the CALM Act, which takes effect today.

CALM is an acronym for Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation. Congress passed the law -- which requires the Federal Communications Commission to regulate the volume of television advertisements, preventing them from being louder than the programs they accompany -- in September 2010. One year ago, the FCC announced plans to implement the law.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) told The Wall Street Journal that the CALM Act was the most popular bill she had sponsored during 18 years in Congress: "If I'd saved 50 million children from some malady, people would not have the interest that they have in this."

"The Commission has received almost 6,000 complaints or inquiries about loud commercials since 2008," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said last year. "So I'm pleased that we have crafted a process that will protect consumers from inappropriately loud commercials, while remaining sensitive to resource constraints of small broadcasters and subscription TV providers."

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Broadcasters, as well as cable providers and satellite operators, will be responsible for ensuring that the decibel level doesn't spike when the Pillsbury Doughboy, Tony the Tiger, or any of GEICO's myriad pitchmen comes onscreen. (FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell called out the high-decibel pitches of OxyClean, ShamWow!, and HeadOn, declaring that TV advertising "will never be the same.") Viewers can report suspected violations of the CALM Act to the FFC on its website.

An attempt to address the problem of earsplitting ads in 1984 failed when regulators concluded there was no objective determinant of loudness. Years of "auditory analysis, mathematical modeling and international debate" followed, according to the Journal, culminating in the setting of rules by the International Telecommunication Union. Australia, Brazil, France, Israel and Russia moved to outlaw excessively loud commercials, while a trade group of British broadcasting advertisers began to self-police: "Advertisers don't want viewers to hit mute," their spokeswoman explained.