Consumer Nation

Ahh... TV Commercials to Get Quieter Starting Thursday

Ben Popken, TODAY contributor

TV fans, you're about to get a break from your commercial break.

Newton Daly | Lifesize | Getty Images

Shouting TV ads are soon to become a thing of the past as a new law goes into effect Thursday at midnight mandating that the volume of commercials has to be within a range of 2 decibels (db) more or less than the programming around them.

Joe Addalia, director of technology projects for Hearst Television, was in charge of figuring out the right technology to make 31 transmitters compliant with the new regulations. He told TODAY that 2 db was "the difference between viewers reaching for the remote and not." TV stations want to encourage watchers to leave the remote alone, he said, "because right next to the volume button is the channel button."

Commercials are often so loud because the only real limit on programming volumes is the one set by stations so that the sound levels don't damage their equipment. That level, however, represents a peak sound meant to accommodate for when something like a gunshot or explosion goes off during a show. Advertising content creators routinely crank the sound of their ads to just shy of that peak level, so the entire commercial is playing at the equivalent of a 30-second bomb blast.

Joel Kelsey, legislative director for the media advocacy group Free Press, previously testified in Congress about the need for volume regulation on commercials. Since nearly the beginning of television itself, loud commercials "have consistently been one of the issues consumers are most energized to write the FCC about. They don't like being screamed at every time the program breaks to buy deodorant," Kelsey told TODAY.

However, it took an act of Congress, the "Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act," or CALM Act, to prod the FCC into the necessary action. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate.

While station operators across the country have been busy implementing new volume-limiting controls, many viewers already have technology in their TV sets to dampen the auditory enthusiasm of "Crazy Carl's Car Shack" and "Head-On, APPLY DIRECTLY TO THE FOREHEAD!"

In their set's audio control settings there may be a selection for "Automatic Volume control" or "Auto Volume" that once selected automatically smooths out the peaks and valleys in the volume. If you don't have the feature built in, you can purchase an external device such as this Audiovox Terk VR1 Automatic TV Volume Controller, found on Amazon for $21.99.

It's worth mentioning what tools consumers have at their hands, besides the mute button, because with so many moving pieces involved, you can be sure that some loud ads will get through. The FCC encourages viewers to report any rogue ads to 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-225-5322).