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Hey Billy Mays Here, Can You Hear Me Now?
December 13, 2012 5:57 PM   Subscribe

Today marks the implementation of the Commercial Advertising Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act. The late Billy Mays is widely seen as the cause of the ire that produced the act
posted by Xurando (38 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm pretty sure commercials were really loud long before I'd ever heard of Billy Mays
posted by thecjm at 6:11 PM on December 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


I wonder if they make any technical considerations for compressing audio to raise its perceived loudness versus the absolute volume level. Or maybe compression increases the power output, I'm actually not an actual audio engineer. Anyone know?
posted by GuyZero at 6:11 PM on December 13, 2012


yay!
posted by Artw at 6:12 PM on December 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


Yay! indeed. We're getting LKFS in Australia on January 1.
posted by unliteral at 6:25 PM on December 13, 2012


Well, I guess I'm glad Congress can agree on something. I'd be willing to trade loud commercials for any number of other things, though.
posted by hoyland at 6:29 PM on December 13, 2012


So, take that Harvey Norman.
posted by unliteral at 6:31 PM on December 13, 2012


Mr. Darling insists on sleeping with the TV on, and I've spent years trying to find the perfect station that won't switch to screaming infomercials at 4 a.m. (The Science Channel is particularly lovely on the nights they're doing "How It's Made" marathons... aural Ambien all the way through to 6:00.)

My new favorite station was the PBS spin-off Create network, until they changed the line-up and introduced the horrors of "Pati's Mexican Table" at 3:30. The timbre of that woman's voice can wake me from a deep sleep regardless of the volume. They should substitute her voice for the Emergency Broadcast System signal. Speaking of which, did you know that every station has to do a weekly test now and many of them choose to run them in the middle of the goddamned night?

(Sorry, I could really use a night of uninterrupted sleep. Maybe this will help some.)
posted by Sweetie Darling at 6:33 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Or you know, turn the tv off at bedtime.
posted by Jaymzifer at 6:40 PM on December 13, 2012 [12 favorites]


That's the kind of thing Democrats an Republicans could agree on last session, not ending the debt ceiling crisis: the loudness of commercials. Because everyone watches TV, liberals and conservatives alike.

Once again, I'm reminded of Michael Moore's "A Prayer to Afflict the Comfortable with as Many Afflictions as Possible" (E2 LINK), which recognizes that change tends to happen fastest when lawmakers themselves (especially Republican ones) are helped by it. It's easy to not take people's problems seriously when you've never faced them yourself.
posted by JHarris at 6:45 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


The CALM Act, which was sponsored by Eshoo in the House, requires broadcast and cable television stations to adopt industry technology that ensures that commercials aren't louder than regular programming.

Such technology (if broadcasters actually bother to voluntarily follow the recommendations of the act -- did I read that right?) will most likely take the form of a poorly-calibrated cheap-ass compressor that makes everything sound all pumpy and awful.

(A compressor boosts the signal when it's quiet, and cuts it when it's loud. Useful before mixdown, pretty much the worst thing ever after mixdown.)

And that won't actually solve the problem, which was never just the volume but the frequencies, too. Commercial voiceovers are equalized to emphasize the frequencies that your shitty TV speakers best put out and your ears best pick up: high-mids. And they're compressed like crazy and cranked to the max so you don't miss a word of that all-important message about Chia Pets or whatever. Programs, on the other hand, are made to sound more realistic, so speech tends to seem muffled compared to the crystal clarity of commercials. So you turn up the TV. So then the commercials are even louder. So fuck.

Luckily it's 2012 and passive consumption of programming is pretty much over anyhow. Get a DVR, record your shows, fast forward the ads. Or watch them on the internet.

"Isn't it the most annoying thing in the whole world?" says FCC spokeswoman Jen Howard.

Take that, starving kids!
posted by Sys Rq at 6:52 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Luckily it's 2012 and passive consumption of programming is pretty much over anyhow. Get a DVR, record your shows, fast forward the ads. Or watch them on the internet.

Umm.... a little under half of households have a DVR and slightly more than half of those who pay for TV. Something like 8% of television viewing is done via DVR. 85% of TV is watched live (though admittedly people might count pausing the program via DVR long enough to fast forward the ads as watching 'live'). In other words, it may be over for you, but not for the average person.
posted by hoyland at 6:57 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I blame Ted Turner more than Billy Mays for loud commercials. It was a great way to draw advertisers but, like a lot of Turner's "innovations", it helped cement my dislike of television.
posted by J.W. at 7:12 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


hoyland: Why would I recommend the alternatives if I thought everyone was already taking advantage of them?
posted by Sys Rq at 7:13 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'll have to ask the chief engineer at my station tomorrow for details, but it's not just a crappy simplistic overcompression solution, at least at our (little tiny local) station - a lot of care goes into the audio quality, and our engineering staff put a big chunk of change and a lot of time and effort into getting the new equipment up and running for CALM compliance. And it's definitely a "comply or be fined" situation. Again, I don't have the exact details (haven't paid close attention since I'm not directly involved in quality control and FCC compliance stuff), but here's a pretty good article that mentions possible $10,000 fines if a viewer complains about the volume between program and commercial and the station can't prove otherwise.
posted by jason_steakums at 7:15 PM on December 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Or watch them on the internet.

Loud commercials happen online too. I've noticed it with hulu and with mtv.com (I like Teen Wolf). I was hoping this change included the internet.
posted by shoesietart at 7:15 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I really can't imagine watching much American TV without a DVR without going nuts. Ads ads ads!
posted by Artw at 7:21 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


What I actually want is some kind of setting on my remote that lets me equalize the sound between walk-and-talks and action sequences on the decks of aircraft carriers.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 7:33 PM on December 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Side note: I had forgotten what Billy Mays sounded like, partially because he's no longer alive, and partially because I'm more of a fan of the edits that Jaboody Dubs performed on his ads.
posted by stannate at 7:35 PM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wasn't this the norm before the 1980s? I may be having a false memory but I thought Reagan deregulated a bunch of stuff including how loud commercials could be during Saturday morning cartoons.
posted by edgeways at 7:35 PM on December 13, 2012


For people who like to fall asleep with the TV on: don't many TVs have a sleep function that automatically turns them off with a timer setting? I know I have had TVs where that is a thing.
posted by asperity at 8:13 PM on December 13, 2012


Now they finally get to this ? People have been bitching about that since at least the 70s and now that I never watch TV anymore they finally fucking fix it ?

And whats worse - those stupid intersitial ads are doing now.

I mean, look, if I wanted your website to make noise, I'd lick my finger and rub it on the screen. If I was at all interested in your product, I would have bought it already. STFU already. Christ.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:14 PM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Private bittorrent trackers sure are great.
posted by ryanrs at 8:24 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, this has been a complaint for a lot longer than people think - technical & trade magazines discuss it as far back as the 50's and 60's.

I have no idea what standard (if any) the US is planning to use* to determine apparent volume, but LKFS (as mentioned by uniliteral above) is specifically designed to account for most of the points like compression, equalisation/filtering, etc that people have mentioned. This isn't just your average DRC or level algorithm…

(* LKFS is a standard by the evil ITU - the secret One World Government who wants to control ur internets - so maybe the US is using something else…)
posted by Pinback at 8:33 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's not like they're going to insert a Behringer compressor on the output and call it a day. The TV stations will be forced to use a metadata parameter of AC-3 called dialnorm, which indicates the loudness (in LKFS, a unit defined ITU-R rec. BS.1770). The value of dialnorm needs to correspond to the loudness of the "anchor element" of the broadcast, normally the dialogue (so, in the case of Mr. Mays, his very loud voice). Your TV will then adjust the volume so that dialnorm always ends up at the same volume. So if you're watching The Wire (dialnorm: 24 LKFS) and a loud commercial (dialnorm: 27 LKFS) comes on, the TV will automatically dial down the volume.

Of course you could record a super-loud commercial and set the dialnorm super-low, but that's against the best practice (and TV stations have to keep an eye on the stuff they broadcast to make sure it's not happening).

LKFS is calculated by applying two filters to each channel, the first to take the listener's head into account, the second to attenuate low frequencies. The average square value is then calculated, and then the value for all the channels are combined, multiplying the surround (back) channels by 1.41.

You get LKFS by doing: Lk = 0.691 + 10 log10ΣGi×&zi

With zi = 1/T × Int(from=0,to=T,yi2dt)
And Gi the gain for the channel (LCR = 1, SrSl = 1.41)

The Best practice also requires the use of "true peak" instead of "peak sample" metering, since even a signal with samples below 0 dBFS can overload the DAC. In addition, they encourage the use of the dynamic range controls present in AC-3 (using "gain words" that the receiver can optionally apply instead of compressing the signal at the source).
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:46 PM on December 13, 2012 [16 favorites]


Yes, Billy Mays was loud and annoying, but he redeemed himself with that catch in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:55 PM on December 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm torn by this. Loud commercials suck, but BILLY MAYS IS THE PATRON SAINT OF CAPS LOCK DAY.

(GOOD NIGHT SWEAT PRINCE)
posted by benzenedream at 9:06 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]



Or you know, turn the tv off at bedtime.


Some of us have tinnitus and the only thing keeping us from going bat shit insane is noise to help cover the ringing in out ears.
posted by SuzySmith at 9:09 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Maybe in addition to compression, some stations could stop producing station identification spots and promos that are louder than even the regular commercials.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:23 PM on December 13, 2012


I usually hit the mute button during commercials. :)
posted by luckynerd at 10:07 PM on December 13, 2012


Okay, I kind of love this aside:

Mr. Lund is referring to the mock heavy-metal band in the movie whose guitarist uses amplifiers with dials that top out at 11, "one louder" than the standard maximum of 10.
posted by RobotHero at 10:50 PM on December 13, 2012


This is good news, I for one am tired MMM! NEW SUPER CAT CHUNKS IN DELICIOUS GRAVY! of these loud PAW LICKING GOODNESS! interruptions
posted by fallingbadgers at 10:54 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mr. Darling insists on sleeping with the TV on, and I've spent years trying to find the perfect station

Switch him over to proper radio, BBC 4, which turns into the World Service at night (which, depending on your timezone may be the middle of the day for you). Nothing so sophorific as hearing th Shipping Forcast at 1:30 AM.

Course, sometimes the World Service has those strange school programmes on in the middle of the night, with a lot of disjoined children singing and weird repetitions and you have the same problem again.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:55 PM on December 13, 2012


asperity: For people who like to fall asleep with the TV on: don't many TVs have a sleep function that automatically turns them off with a timer setting? I know I have had TVs where that is a thing.
As a TV sleeper, the problem with sleep mode is the unrelenting anxiety of not being able to fall all the way asleep before the TV turns off. It becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Still, like thehmsbeagle, I'd much rather have a TV that could compensate between the whispering and explosions in movies like I did—oh dear God I feel old—20 years ago. Maybe then I wouldn't have to watch everything with the closed captions on.
posted by ob1quixote at 10:55 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Loud commercials happen online too. I've noticed it with hulu and with mtv.com (I like Teen Wolf). I was hoping this change included the internet.

When hulu first rolled out their super-shiny new video player, one of the big benefits touted was ad loudness control.
And it worked, too, for the first couple of months. Guess the advertisers pulled some strings or figured out a way around it.
posted by madajb at 12:12 AM on December 14, 2012


What I actually want is some kind of setting on my remote that lets me equalize the sound between walk-and-talks and action sequences on the decks of aircraft carriers.

Many TVs and most surround receivers have a "Night mode" or "Automatic volume limit" setting which does this.
Brings the soft sounds up and limits the top end. Poke around at your equipment, it might already be there.
posted by madajb at 12:16 AM on December 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


(GOOD NIGHT SWEAT PRINCE)

Ew. Neither charming nor fresh.
posted by maryr at 12:23 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I never even see commercials anymore, since I only watched downloaded rips anymore. But I still would like to see this same thing apply to TV shows and movies. Please do whatever audio wizardry you have to do so I don't alternately have to crank the volume up and race to slam it way down just to watch your thing and be able to hear it without going deaf.
posted by DU at 1:46 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure commercials were really loud long before I'd ever heard of Billy Mays

That's a bit like saying rockets were really loud long before they built the Saturn-V.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:12 AM on December 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


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