Congress tells TV advertisers to control the volume

By Jim Abrams
Thursday, December 2, 2010; 8:17 PM

The House passed a bill on Thursday that would prevent television advertisers from abruptly raising the volume to grab viewers' attention.

The House bill's sponsor, Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.), said it was her own "earsplitting experiences" that got her involved, recalling how the ads "blew us out of the house" when she watched television, already set at a high volume, with her parents.

But she said that her office has also gotten many messages of support.

"We can protect people from needlessly loud noise spikes that can actually harm their hearing," she said.

Under the legislation, now heading to President Obama for his signature, the Federal Communications Commission would be required within one year to adopt industry standards that coordinate advertising's decibel levels to those of the regular program. The new regulations, applying to all broadcast providers, including cable and satellite, would go into effect a year later.

"It's not like the consumer has any choices," said Mark Cooper, director of research at the Consumer Federation of America. "It's a case where it's very difficult for consumers to express their sovereignty."

The FCC has been receiving complaints from consumers since the 1960s about jarring sound bursts when commercials come on, but the commission currently does not regulate program or commercial volume. Instead, it reminds viewers that newer TVs come equipped with circuits designed to stabilize volume differences or advises people that one solution is to make aggressive use of the mute button on the remote.

The legislation would force the industry to abide by its own recommendations for audio standards as devised a year ago by the Advanced Television Systems Committee, an organization of broadcasters.

Dick O'Brien, director of government relations at the American Association of Advertising Agencies, said his group supports the bill because "we fully understand that advertising works best when it engages consumers, not alienates them." He said enforcing volume guidelines already proposed by the industry "in itself should make the viewing experience of the American public a much more user-friendly one."

- Associated Press

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