Commerce Committee passes Senate version of CALM Act to prevent loud commercials

The chronic problem of Excessively Loud Commercials – a bugaboo to TV viewers for decades – may soon be a thing of the past. The Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act (apparently mandatory “clever” acronym: the CALM Act) (S.2847) has been approved by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and shuttled off to the full Senate for its consideration. The bill is intended to force video providers to take steps to assure that commercials (and other “interstitials”) are not annoyingly louder than the programming which they interrupt. Since the full House has already passed its essentially identical version of the CALM Act, the stage appears to be set for passage of the bill, presumably in the not-too-distant future.

As we have written previously, the bill in its current form would require the Commission to incorporate by reference into its rules the “Recommended Practice” adopted by the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC). The ATSC’s recommendation was intended to provide the television industry “with uniform operating strategies that will optimize the audience listening experience by eliminating large changes in sound levels”.

The paladin of the CALM Act for several years has been Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo (who might want to change the spelling of her name to eSHHHHoo if the bill gets passed). She introduced a version of it two years ago, but that version (as we observed here) suffered a number of practical problems. Those problems got cleaned up considerably this time around, largely eliminating the “wild goose chase” aspect of the earlier version.

While the viewing public may celebrate the eventual enactment of the CALM Act, the television industry as a whole may want to hold off for a while before it pops the cork on the champagne. Compliance with the requirements contemplated by the Act could be pricey. The bill itself implicitly acknowledges this when it specifically authorizes the Commission to grant up to two years’ worth of waivers based on “financial hardship”. It’s not clear exactly what the costs are likely to be, but we can all probably agree that it’s not a good sign when Congress itself starts talking about “financial hardship” before the bill has even passed.

Also, the ATSC’s Recommended Practice indicates that compliance may require use of a patented invention. That could give rise to additional problems (as it has in at least one other area involving an ATSC standard for DTV).

But irrespective of these practical considerations, the American viewing public is likely to salute passage of the CALM Act with a hearty round of applause or, perhaps more appropriately, with a moment of silence.

Check back here for further updates on the progress of the CALM Act through the final stages of the legislative process.