June 05, 2014

FCC: Operators Should Keep CALM and Carry On


Remember when TV commercials seemed to always be louder than the programming that they ran with? It wasn’t just the imagination at work—typically they were, and it was a consumer dissatisfaction trigger for many. The FCC’s Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act is meant to eliminate the issue—but hasn’t completely. Now, the Commission has approved a technical change that could further reduce the volume of the ads.

On December 15, 2010, President Obama signed the Act, mandating that TV commercials aren't allowed to be any louder on average than the shows they accompany. It went into effect on Dec. 13, 2012, and requires that all multichannel video operators, not just cable companies, adopt a set of recommended practice provisions.

This week, the FCC has approved an improved loudness measurement algorithm that closes a sneaky loophole for advertisers and their distribution partners. The new standard was developed by the Advanced Television Systems Committee(ATSC) and is designed to keep advertisers from using silence to offset excessive loudness in calculating the average volume of a commercial. “It employs ‘gating’ that will exclude very quiet or silent passages of a commercial when calculating the average loudness of that commercial,” the Commission said in its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking last November. It added that “use of the new algorithm may result in some reduction in commercial loudness in certain circumstances.”

Operators and broadcasters have a year to comply with the new standard—a caveat that the National Association of Broadcasters requested and has received.

The way CALM is implemented has to do with audio signatures. Essentially, they have to follow a golden rule, which says that the loudness of the programming equals the dial norm value—which is a data value transmitted with most U.S. broadcasts. This is used to adjust, automatically, how loudly the system plays back the content. So, the loudness of the content must equal the dial norm value. Pay-TV providers must be prepared to demonstrate compliance, and to provide spot-check information, otherwise facing potential FCC fines from enforcement actions, not to mentioncustomer dissatisfaction and churn.

Though the implementation deadline for the new algorithm is June 4, 2015, industry folks can adopt the standard early if they choose. There are, however, notable operational challenges that TV providers have on their plate when it comes to complying with CALM, stemming from the increasingly complex landscape of video delivery. For instance, they need to implement a monitoring and quality assurance system, or set of processes, to allow them to provide compliance information to the FCC, as well as take automated and rapid correction when there’s an issue to avoid customer complaints. It sounds simple, but is actually quite a complex operational task when faced with multiscreen-driven multiple types of access devices and content delivery infrastructure.

Operators would do well to get on the stick though, because customers will indeed churn. In all, as of the beginning of the year, the FCC has received more than 20,000 complaints since the rules took effect in late 2012. Of those, more than 14,500 were referred to the commission’s enforcement bureau.

The rate of complaints is decreasing however. In January 2013, the FCC received 4,405 complaints for commercial loudness, according to a Commission report. By the end of last year, the number had dropped to 656.

“There continues to be a general downward trend in complaints related to loud commercials since December 2012,” the head of FCC’s enforcement bureau, P. Michele Ellison, wrote in the report.




Edited by Allison Sansone



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