TV ads too loud, industry watchdog says
Moves to 'minimise annoyance', save eardrums
Television adverts sometimes sound much louder than surrounding programme material because existing rules on sound levels are ambiguous. The rules should change to minimise annoyance to viewers, says an industry watchdog.
The Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) has launched a consultation on the sound levels of TV ads. Its consultation paper includes a proposal for a new rule that would provide more certainty for broadcasters and ensure that no single ad in a commercial break is significantly louder than the others.
Between September 2005 and December 2006, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received 245 complaints about the perceived noisiness of TV ads.
The existing rule states:
Advertisements must not be excessively noisy or strident. Studio transmission power must not be increased from normal levels during advertising.
Note: The peak level of sound at the studio output should not exceed +8dBm. To ensure that the subjective volume is consistent with adjacent programming, whilst also preventing excessive loudness changes, highly compressed commercials should be limited to a Normal Peak of 4 and a Full Range of 2 - 4 (measured on a PPM Type IIa, specified in BS6840: Part 10, Programme Level Meters). A fairly constant average level of sound energy should be maintained in transitions from programmes to advertising breaks and vice versa so that listeners do not need to adjust the volume. A perceived loudness meter may be useful where sound levels might cause problems.
According to BCAP, the note to the existing rule is difficult to interpret. Audio compression takes place when minimum sound levels are raised artificially during the production stage in order to make them stand out; but the note does not explain what constitutes a "highly compressed" advertisement. That allows broadcasters to transmit compressed ads and decide for themselves what a suitable peak level would be, up to +8dBm.
Even at lower levels, an ad can sound excessively noisy if the TV programme content is quiet. A channel showing old movies "would likely have a quieter loudness profile than a music video channel or a sports channel," explains the BCAP document.
The proposed replacement rule states:
A consistent subjective loudness must be maintained between individual advertisements and between the advertisements and programme and other junction material. Measurement and balancing of subjective loudness levels should preferably be carried out using a loudness-level meter conforming to ITU recommendations. If a peak-reading meter is used instead, the maximum level of the advertisements must be limited to 6dB less than the maximum level of the programmes to take account of the limited dynamic range exhibited by most advertisements.
For editorial reasons, commercial breaks sometimes occur during especially quiet parts of a programme, with the result that advertisements at 'normally acceptable' levels seem loud in comparison. Broadcasters must strive to minimise the annoyance that that perceived imbalance could cause the audience, with the aim that the audience need not adjust the volume of their television sets during programme breaks.
BCAP anticipates that the new rule will "reduce the risk of the audience having to adjust the volume in the advertisement breaks because they consider the advertisements to be too loud."
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presumably "difficult to interpret" translates as "how far can we stretch the rules"
Ads on subscription channels
It's not just the volume that makes the ads unwatchable but the length and sheer quantity of the ad breaks, which seem to mostly feature witless sales patter for all manner of lowbrow crap such as ambulance-chasers and expensive loans for unreliable borrowers. But my main gripe is, why am I being spammed to death on channels for which I have to pay a hefty subscription fee? Since I've long since given up trying to watch programmes interactively, I may as well just buy the DVDs instead. It's probably cheaper and more convenient, and certainly a lot less annoying.
Adverts on DVDs
One word: AnyDVD.
Probably *the* most useful thing I have ever had installed on a PC. I eventually eschewed my DVD player for a Windows MCE 2005 box in my lounge for several reasons, and being able to hit the MENU button whenever I put a disc in - avoiding all the adverts, intros, copyright notices in 1001 different languages, etc - is something I will *never* give up. I'm not switching to HD-DVD or Blu-Ray either, until both formats have been well-and-truly cracked beyond recourse, and I have access to the same ad-skipping and multi-region functionality I have today with DVDs.
What's probably more embarrassing for the official DVD player manufacturers is that not all of them can play all DVDs! I own several DVDs (most notably the Back To The Future trilogy) that will simply not play in my fairly-new £60 Philips DVD player! If that isn't a case of not-fit-for-purpose, I don't know what is! However, my AnyDVD-equipped PC handles them without so much as a stutter (or an advert) - hence it is now my primary playback device.