Bill Looks to End Annoying Volume Spikes of TV Commercials

It's happened to all of us. You're enjoying a television show when a loud, eardrum-shattering commercial comes on, leaving you scrambling over coffee tables and couches for the mute button.

Such crank-up-the-volume tactics are hardly an accident. Some television networks purposely turn the volume of commercials louder than their shows -- so we pay attention to the bill-paying ads. But Calif. Rep. Anna Eshoo has heard our collective cries and says it's time for that practice to end.

"I not only dive for the mute button, but I end up having to close my windows so that the blast doesn't affect by neighbors," the California Democrat said. "I live on a cul-de-sac, and so the sound resonates."

So Eshoo's introduced a bill to make the volume steady. Her original legislation demanded that television advertisements be no louder than the average maximum loudness of the programs they accompany. But she changed it to instead adopt guidelines developed by the TV industry, which she said will accomplish the same goal.

"I didn't go with the industry," she insisted. "I prodded the industry to come up with the technology and the standards. And they did."

A vote in the House is expected Tuesday. An identical measure is making its way through the Senate as well.

However, the bill has its critics. Robert Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University, wonders why -- with all of the troubling issues facing our country -- Congress is wasting its time with TV commercial volume?

"The idea that this is a problem that is so big that it requires legislative action is incredibly absurd," he said. "I don't think anyone's ears have ever been damaged by this."

Mark Richer, who heads the TV industry's Advanced Television Systems Committee, agrees with Thompson and says ads may not actually be louder at all. He says sometimes a commercial with music or screeching tires can seem louder because it is following a quiet scene in a show.

"That's life," Richer said. "That's what sound is."

Having said that, Richer said some networks have already begun making changes.
"People are already hearing a difference -- or not hearing a difference -- is a better way to put it."


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