Regulators to Save Us from Loud TV Ads and Product Placements

by on June 24, 2008 · 26 comments

Couch potatoes of America, have no fear… Your friendly neighborhood super-regulators are about to swoop in and save you from the scourge of loud TV ads and “illegal” product placements! As we all learned in our high school Civics 101 classes, this is why the American Revolution was fought: We Americans have an unambiguous constitutional birthright to be free of the tyranny of “excessive loudness” during commercial breaks and pesky product promos during our favorite network dramas. (Seriously, it’s right there in the footnotes to the Bill of Rights; you probably just missed it before.)

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) has the first problem covered. She and her House colleague Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) are proposing H.R. 6209, the “Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act.” (Oh, isn’t that so cute! The “C.A.L.M. Act”! How very, very witty.) The CALM Act would address “volume manipulation” in TV ads by making sure that TV ads are not “excessively noisy or strident.” (Strident! We Americans hate “strident” ads.) The bill would empower regulators at the Federal Communications Commission to take steps to ensure that “such advertisements shall not be presented at modulation levels substantially higher than the program material that such advertisements accompany; and, the average maximum loudness of such advertisements shall not be substantially higher than the average maximum loudness of the program material that such advertisements accompany.”

Clearly, this is valuable use of our regulators’ time. I look forward to the day when I can visit the FCC and see my tax dollars at work as teams of bureaucrats closely monitor each episode of “Desperate Housewives” and “Swingtown” in search of such malicious volume manipulation during the commercial breaks. (Incidentally, where is the form I need to fill out to get that job? Heck, I’ll take minimum wage pay to do this all day long.)

So, we can rest easier now know that lawmakers will take care of this egregious violation of our human rights. But what about the potential product placements in various TV dramas or comedies? Luckily, the folks at the FCC are on it. According to Reuters:

U.S. regulators are expected to take the first step this week that could rein in advertisers’ growing use of product placements on television shows, two sources close to the agency told Reuters on Monday. The Federal Communications Commission will vote to study whether TV shows should carry more conspicuous notices informing viewers when advertisers paid to have food, automobiles and other products prominently displayed during programs, the sources said.

Thank God, our long national nightmare is over! Never again will we have to see another “Seinfeld” rerun where Jerry just stands there mocking our sensibilities with a Coca-Cola can in his hand! And thank God our regulators will be freeing us from the frightful sight of a Ford Mustang in the staring role of the remake of “Knight Rider.” I mean, what an insult to the original K.I.T.T.! Have they no shame!

Apparently, the anti-product placement movement is a true “baptist and bootleggers” affair. This righteous crusade features a strange bedfellows coalition of Lefties and social conservatives who all hell-bent on saving us from the evils of commercial advertising. “We must not allow television programs to become Trojan horses, carrying messages that would otherwise be criticized by the public or even deemed illegal,” wrote members of this coalition, which includes Public Citizen and the Parents Television Council. (Thank you Public Citizen and PTC for forcing us to spend our taxpayer money on this regulatory effort! I’m glad you’re looking out for our best interests since most of us are not capable of doing so on our own.)

What remains unclear about both the CALM Act and the effort to regulate product placement, however, is how it conflicts with our other unambiguous constitutional right to all the free or cheap TV that we please! Someone needs to pay for all that content, after all, but it sure in hell ain’t going to be us, right? I mean, how dare they subject to us to loud ads or product placements in an attempt to get us to pay attention to the ads we are busy skipping with our TiVos!

Evil, evil people in the media business, I tell you! Our benevolent leaders on high must save us from this scourge and put a stop to all this. And don’t worry about the availability of free or cheap TV. It will continue to just fall like manna from heaven in our laps, without any commercial interruption. Or, if not, I guess we could always just watch commercial-free public television all day long. Yeah, that’s the ticket… Bring on a 24/7 lineup of “Antiques Roadshow” and “Victory Garden,” all gloriously free of the evils of commercialism that is corrupting of our fragile little minds!

We are so repressed. Down with commercialism! Down with capitalism! Down with THE MAN!

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Loud commercials promote the sale of DVRs. Eshoo and Lofgren are hurting TiVo.

  • http://www.manifestdensity.net Tom

    I’m quite please to hear that action is being taken regarding the loudness problem, which has recently become dramatically worse. Do you really think regulation in this regard is likely to work more efficiently than the market — that consumers should be relied upon to flock to stations with quieter ads? Or, perhaps, to buy new devices that counteract the loudness?

    That seems a bit ridiculous. Mandating some kind of sane RMS normalization criterion on broadcast TV is an obviously more efficient way to address the problem. If enough Americans feel it’s a problem that their representatives will enact such legislation, then what’s the problem? It should be self-evident that imposing some limits on advertising techniques are necessary and reasonable if we want to have a livable society.

    This post is just knee-jerk anti-regulation rhetoric. But that’s not enough to constitute an argument, I’m afraid: what is the alleged cost or inefficiency that this proposed rule will introduce?

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Loud commercials promote the sale of DVRs. Eshoo and Lofgren are hurting TiVo.

  • Adam Thierer

    “If enough Americans feel it’s a problem that their representatives will enact such legislation, then what’s the problem?”

    Sure, why not. I mean untrammeled majoritarianism is the American way, right? So let me substitute a few words here… “If enough Americans feel [offensive talk] is a problem that their representatives will enact such legislation [to limit it], then what’s the problem?”

    Well, that’s IS the problem in my book. The slippery slope of speech regulation is real.

  • http://www.manifestdensity.net Tom

    I’m quite please to hear that action is being taken regarding the loudness problem, which has recently become dramatically worse. Do you really think regulation in this regard is likely to work more efficiently than the market — that consumers should be relied upon to flock to stations with quieter ads? Or, perhaps, to buy new devices that counteract the loudness?

    That seems a bit ridiculous. Mandating some kind of sane RMS normalization criterion on broadcast TV is an obviously more efficient way to address the problem. If enough Americans feel it’s a problem that their representatives will enact such legislation, then what’s the problem? It should be self-evident that imposing some limits on advertising techniques are necessary and reasonable if we want to have a livable society.

    This post is just knee-jerk anti-regulation rhetoric. But that’s not enough to constitute an argument, I’m afraid: what is the alleged cost or inefficiency that this proposed rule will introduce?

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Some of the home entertainment equipment vendors have built systems to find “high impact” programming, in order to show the highlights of a football game or what have you. These systems respond to video as well as audio qualities, such as vivid images and replays. Early systems identified commercials as high impact because there’s more intensity at every level in a 30-second spot than in regular programming. So what’s next, no good-looking women or car chases in commercials?

  • http://www.techliberation.com Adam Thierer

    “If enough Americans feel it’s a problem that their representatives will enact such legislation, then what’s the problem?”

    Sure, why not. I mean untrammeled majoritarianism is the American way, right? So let me substitute a few words here… “If enough Americans feel [offensive talk] is a problem that their representatives will enact such legislation [to limit it], then what’s the problem?”

    Well, that’s IS the problem in my book. The slippery slope of speech regulation is real.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Some of the home entertainment equipment vendors have built systems to find “high impact” programming, in order to show the highlights of a football game or what have you. These systems respond to video as well as audio qualities, such as vivid images and replays. Early systems identified commercials as high impact because there’s more intensity at every level in a 30-second spot than in regular programming. So what’s next, no good-looking women or car chases in commercials?

  • http://www.manifestdensity.net Tom

    I’m seeing a lot of rhetorical tricks, and not a lot of explanations of what normalizing the volume costs us. This is not a restriction of speech any more than are the laws saying I can’t stand outside your bedroom window with an airhorn all night. The content of speech is protected, not its physical volume.

  • http://www.manifestdensity.net Tom

    I’m seeing a lot of rhetorical tricks, and not a lot of explanations of what normalizing the volume costs us. This is not a restriction of speech any more than are the laws saying I can’t stand outside your bedroom window with an airhorn all night. The content of speech is protected, not its physical volume.

  • Gary Dean

    This writer is obviously a media industry employee.
    Not only should the government regulate the loudness of commercials, but it is now time to begin regulating the frequency, duration and content of television commercials.
    Yes, PBS would be a nightmare. PBS has more quality programming in a month than the commercial and cable stations do in a year.

  • Gary Dean

    This writer is obviously a media industry employee.
    Not only should the government regulate the loudness of commercials, but it is now time to begin regulating the frequency, duration and content of television commercials.
    Yes, PBS would be a nightmare. PBS has more quality programming in a month than the commercial and cable stations do in a year.

  • tlfmd

    If you watch TV @ 60 dB (level of conversation), commercials from all sources are at 70dB. (RadioShack sound meter ,about 80 bucks)
    Sound pressure in milliPascals is about doubled for every 3 dB.
    Thus it is hillarious that they can say they are not louder.

  • Sick of Loud Commercials

    I have a sure-fire way of toning down those aggravating loud commercials… turn the damn TV off and go do something constructive. Works like a champ for me. Now, Mr. Commercial Producer, what are you going to do to buttonhole me now???

  • waterwalker

    that is not the same thing.

    I can cope with offensive talk, what I cannot cope with is a stranger coming in to my home and turning the volume up just for commercials.

  • offended by noise

    Another possible approach might be to boycot those offensively loud commercials. Don't buy their product and maybe they'll figure it out. On second thought, they would probably assume that it's still not load enough and crank it up even louder in an attempt to bring sales up. I guess what we need is an email campaign (or phone call) to the offending company telling them that we won't be buying their product no matter how wonderful it is until they bring their volume down to the same level as the program.

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  • robs091402

    Adam Thierer is obviously very full of himself with his snide commentary running through the entire piece. The fact is, I like thousands of other Americans have tuned out commercial TV. As the industry gets desperate they actually think they will increase profit by yelling at us. I'm not sure the govt needs to tell them to stop, but I did not spend $1500 on a TV and $75 a month to lose control of my environment. Honestly, how many times have you Adam Thierer fallen asleep only to be awaken by Billy Mayes booming voice yelling at you in high volume? That alone is a felony.

  • robs091402

    Adam Thierer is obviously very full of himself with his snide commentary running through the entire piece. The fact is, I like thousands of other Americans have tuned out commercial TV. As the industry gets desperate they actually think they will increase profit by yelling at us. I'm not sure the govt needs to tell them to stop, but I did not spend $1500 on a TV and $75 a month to lose control of my environment. Honestly, how many times have you Adam Thierer fallen asleep only to be awaken by Billy Mayes booming voice yelling at you in high volume? That alone is a felony.

  • http://www.bedheadmanipulator.net/ Owen

    Not fresh in the morning? I have often noticed that some are fond of leaving a little gap between the head board of their bed and the wall. The reason maybe that it made sweeping and vacuuming the area between bed and wall a little easier, like a space where the broom or vacuum hose could reach.

  • Pingback: Congresswoman, CALM Thyself! LA Times Eschews Eshoo Nanny State Bill to Regulate Ad Volume — Technology Liberation Front

  • Rich

    There is a simple solution if you have a Motorola cable box, such as Comcast provides. Hit your silver remote's Menu button, choose Setup, Audio Setup, Compression, set from Light to Heavy, then Exit. That will reduce any loud programming like magic. Not for audio affectionados, but the average viewer will be happy without the loud commercials.

  • Rich

    There is a simple solution if you have a Motorola cable box, such as Comcast provides. Hit your silver remote's Menu button, choose Setup, Audio Setup, Compression, set from Light to Heavy, then Exit. That will reduce any loud programming like magic. Not for audio affectionados, but the average viewer will be happy without the loud commercials.

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