Most legislation has been sucked into the morass that is the pre-midterm congressional session, but at least one bill that will affect most Americans has gotten out. The Senate Wednesday passed by a voice vote the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, requiring broadcast and cable TV companies to air commercials at the same volume as the programs they support.
The CALM Act (get it?) is supposed to help cut down on complaints to the FCC about loud commercials, one of the top complaints to the nation’s broadcast regulators. “TV viewers should be able to watch their favorite programs without fear of losing their hearing when the show goes to a commercial,” Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York told the AP.
A few minor changes to the bill since it passed the House will require a re-vote there, but the House is in recess until after the November election and will thus not have a chance to vote on it then. The bill mandates the FCC adopt guidelines from the Advanced Television Systems Committee, a non-profit that develops standards for television, within a year, and begin enforcing it in two, so unfortunately there are a few more years before the blaring “Social Network” commercials startle you awake.
Although it seems like an open-and-shut case, not everyone seems to care, like crabby commentator Frank Robinson at the Warren Tribune Chronicle:
Have we as a society become so lazy we don’t even want to use the remote to adjust the volume? I remember watching TV when there was no remote, and you actually got up, walked across the room, and changed the channel and adjusted the volume. Wow. … What is especially puzzling in this case is that Congress is involved. Why? Elected officials have to have more important things to worry about.
John Abell over at Wired applauds the measure but notes that its effect is dwindling fast.
While this may have been a cause for national celebration in simpler times, the parade has largely moved on. We are now armed with the tools to ignore TV ads in the broadcast/cable/satellite realm — if ad aversion is your thing, do yourself a favor and buy a TiVo box, or at least rent your provider’s DVR. Many high-end entertainment systems already have the capacity to moderate volume on the fly. And perhaps more to the point, we are marching steadily (if still slowly) to a time-shifted, on-demand video universe where a) traditional programming is just a small slice of what you do with what you might still call your TV set and b) you don’t use a TV set at all to “watch TV.”
Furthermore, much of the ad action is taking place online at streaming video websites, outside the FCC’s scope.
Even Hulu Plus, which charges $10 a month if you can get an invite, has ads. They are more limited, but guess what? You can’t bypass them, at all. While you can pause and scrub forward and back on programming, you are a captive audience to the ads. Also, they are (in this reporter’s anecdotal experience, at least) louder than the programming, just like on the TV.
SmallGovTimes.com has a brief piece on the bill’s passage, but its headline is what’s intriguing: “Amidst economic turmoil, Senate finds time to limit commercial volume.” It’s not clear why the economy, even one as damaged as this, would or should prevent Congress from finding time to vote on small bills such as this. When, then, is it okay to begin passing non-commerce bills, after unemployment drops below a certain level? Until then should senators sit in their offices when not working on economic issues and think about new ways to create jobs?