FCC Receives Nearly 16,000 Complaints of Loud TV Commercials

The Federal Communications Commission has reported that it has received 15,850 complaints about loud TV commercials since new regulations went into effect in December. The reports, which run through June 5, were heavily weighted towards the beginning of the year: in the first month that the regulations were in effect, the agency received 4,777 complaints about possible violations. The number of complaints declined steadily thereafter, as awareness of the new rules grew, the agency said.

The FCC made the disclosure in response to a request from Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), the sponsors of the CALM Act, which authorized the new regulations.

The rules require broadcast-, cable-, and satellite-television providers to keep the average volume of commercials at the same level as the programming containing them. A single infraction could lead to a station’s being fined as much as $10,000. The FCC has yet to issue any fines for violations, but the commission said it is continuing to review the complaints, looking for “patterns or trends.”

The nature of the information behind the complaints will become an issue, say manufacturers of the metering, monitoring, and management systems aimed at the loudness issue.

Tim Carroll, founder of Linear Acoustic, which makes products for all three categories, says, “More analysis of the complaints is necessary. Some of the complaints are going to happen just because people can [complain], but, of the legitimate ones, we have to know what the circumstances were that prompted the complaints. In some cases, consumers may not realize that the CALM Act is intended to address loudness levels in commercials, not programming. They may be confusing the two. That’s why we need to analyze the complaints carefully.”

Chris Fichera, VP of audio at Group One Ltd., which distributes Junger Audio’s Level Magic meters and processors, agrees, asking, “What kinds of audio systems were they listening through? A basic flat screen’s speakers are going to hype the midrange, where the announcer audio tends to be, as opposed to a full 5.1 surround system, where the midrange is better positioned with the rest of the sound. Was it a national commercial or a regional spot? We need to know that kind of detail.”

The FCC report seemed to acknowledge that those filing complaints might lack a full understanding of the law: “The data provided by consumers … is often not sufficiently specific or consistent to facilitate reliable analysis.”

Improvements Postponed
Acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn informed the legislators that the agency’s plans to improve the complaint form to produce more useful data have been postponed due to budget cuts put in place earlier this year as part of sequestration.

Eshoo and Whitehouse issued statements last week calling on the FCC to release quarterly reports on enforcement of the CALM Act. “While the initial data from the FCC does not conclusively indicate the effectiveness of the CALM Act yet,” said Eshoo, “it does demonstrate that consumers remain highly committed to keeping the volume of TV commercials at a reasonable level.”

Said Whitehouse, “The CALM Act is already cracking down on needlessly loud TV commercials, and quarterly progress reports would provide interested viewers with timely updates on compliance with the law.”

Carroll points out, “Metering alone won’t fix the problem. We need to know more about he nature of the complaints so that we can focus on the legitimate ones.”

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