Loud Commercials Are Obnoxious. That Doesn't Mean the Government Ought to Regulate TV Ad Volume.


I'm with Berin Szoka on this one: I find TV commercials that manipulate their soundtracks in order blare at volumes far above the actual programming to be incredibly grating and obnoxious. But does that mean we need the government to step in and start overseeing the dynamic range of our TV and cable broadcasts? Hardly. Yet that's just what Rep. Anna Eshoo would have Congress do. As Szoka explains:

Rep. Anna Eshoo's Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act ("CALM Act"—HR 1084) would … require the FCC to issue rules that broadcast and cable TV ads:(1) … shall not be excessively noisy or strident; (2) … shall not be presented at modulation levels substantially higher than the program material that such advertisements accompany; and (3) [their] average maximum loudness…  shall not be substantially higher than the average maximum loudness of the program material that such advertisements accompany.

First of all, it's not necessary. It's easy enough to turn your TV off (or even live without one, as Szoka does). And if that's too arduous, there are various technological solutions from companies like Dolby and SRS that help keep TV volumes on a more even keel. And if you're so enraged at the offending advertisement, it's pretty easy to just quit buying from the company behind. Granted, this is usually less effective in the short run. But reputation matters, and companies can be shamed (or deprived of profit) into behavior that aligns better with their customers' expectations.

But the larger problem is the assumption this grows out of— that government's job is to regulate every minor annoyance out the lives of its citizens. That's bad for government, because it gives it unnecessary power and distracts it from legitimate government activity. It's also worse for citizens, who develop an implicit sense that, when problems arise, the way to fix them is to beg Congress, pass a law, wait for new irritations to arise, then wash, rinse, repeat. And  in the end, I think that's far more grating and obnoxious than a little volume manipulation from advertisers on the idiot box.