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Broadcasters turn down loud ads

Labour's HomeBulld policy might have been ignored, but it gains traction with a "first-world problem": loud ads.

TVNZ, MediaWorks and Maori TV say they have reached an agreement on the compression technology that makes many advertisements so much louder than the programmes they interrupt. Sky TV has not formally signed on to the initiative but says it will support it.

The agreement kicks in January 1, but TVNZ says it will start Sunday. In a statement emailed to NBR ONLINE, CEO Kevin Kenrick said "we just want to get on with it". The state broadcaster will foot the bill for adjusting the audio on ads already submitted.

So are we entering a golden age where we don't have to to lunge for the remote?

Almost, but not quite.

Earlier, TVNZ's general manager of technology Peter Ennis told NBR free-to-air broadcasters here had agreed to follow the International Telecommunications Union's IITU 1770 recommendation, already widely adopted overseas by bodies such as the European Broadcasters' Union. 

But he added the qualifier, "It's important to remember, however, that while these standards go some way towards reducing the perceived loudness differences between and within programme and advertising content it is unlikely that all differences will be eliminated, mainly because advertisers and TV creatives will continue to want to use dynamic range for effect."

Labour broadcasting spokeswoman Clare Curran began agitating on the issue since November last year. Broadcasters say their effort pre-dates the Dunedin South MP's push, but NBR suspects it at least focused them on finally implementing it.

So why are ads so loud?
Post-production expert and one-time TVNZ editor Dylan Reeve explained to NBR why TV ads sound so loud, despite broadcasters protests they are subject to the same peak decibel limit:

Television broadcasters specify a maximum "peak" audio level – the loudest any part of the audio can be. That is so programmes and commercials will conform to that same maximum audio level. However, that does not restrict the quietest or average audio level.

Ads are usually heavily compressed. Not in the sense of file compression, but dynamic range compression. The quietest parts are made louder so they are closer to the loudest parts (that is, there is less range between quiet and loud). This way they can have a louder overall sound without exceeding maximum peak levels.

Programmes, because they are longer and more subtle in their content, are never really compressed as heavily – meaning they sound "quieter".

By adopting a standard for objective loudness measurement, broadcasters can better account for the perceptual loudness in highly compressed audio, Mr Reeve says.

"It's not perfect, and there will still be considerable differences in loudness across content – an hour-long TV show has a lot more subtlety in its sound mix than a 30-second commercial. But, overall, we shouldn't have to reach for the remote as often."

The biggest issue for the broadcasters, at least initially, will be ensuring that content meets the new standards. Loudness measurement is a fairly new concept; audio mixers aren't as used to it yet, and hardware and software to measure it isn't that common yet.

There will be a considerable adjustment period for some.

Heading off regulation
In the US, Congress passed the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act (or CALM) in Decmeber 2010.

France also moved to regulate blaring ads.

Here, free-to-air broadcasters, with Sky TV in orbit, seem to have successfully headed off regulation with their own effort.

TVNZ says inhouse research helped it decide to act.

Independent consumer research conducted by the state broacaster in July revealed 94% of 18- to 54-year-old respondents noticed the difference between ad and programme volumes.

Presumably, the other 6% were deaf.

More by Chris Keall

Comments and questions
13

About bloody time, Thailand reduces its sound output during TV Ad time. finally NZ consumer win some rights for silents.

And Thailand is the broadcasting icon we should be aspiring to is it? You've always had the right to silence - it's called the mute button.

Oh man, you are SOOOOO racist and naive! I mean did you know that Radio Sri Lanka International is older than the BBC World Service? Or that Brazil has more programme output than any U.S channel ! You know nothing about the media world...

I predict that ultimately regulation will be necessary. This voluntary standard will be breached by cleverness and creativity by those who are responsible for the current assault on our ears already. The whole thing may soon become academic as the move away from watching live tv evolves. Now how to get rid of those pesky online ads.

Will the broadcasters adhere to the new standards for their own promos?

Tweaking compression parameters will help. But it won't get rid of those aggressive retail shouting voiceovers. You'll still be shouted at a by Harvey Norman etc, just with less apparent loudness.

The volume (both loudness and number) of ads drove me down the PVR route. No more ads, just hit the fast forward button!

About time too. Its a Elf and Safety Issue as far as Im concerned. You are listening to the programme and then the AD COMES ON AT FULL VOLUME AND BLASTS YOUR EAR DRUMS.

We not only have a right to silence and therefore use of the mute button. We can, along with the privelige of clean air, potable water, and edible food, exercise a choice for a healthy aesthetic and mental environment - there is no TV in this house!

Don't forget the screaming rock music with massively distorted electric guitar affects - as in the completely unwatchable BORDER PATROL and it's ilks that have copied this annoying and Channel-switching inducing habit. I haven't watched iit ( and of course the 'sponsor' adds) for over a year now. haven't missedd the noise....
TVNZ / TV3 please take note...

what a croc - does anyone here actually watch adverts? I either torrent or PVR. Either way there are no adverts watched ever.

Ads pay for free tv? Seems ok to me.

Or maybe we could do something like this?

http://www.tomsguide.com/us/tv-advertising-commercial-loud-calm,news-13543.html

I think TVNZ are no longer relvant. They lost the plot years ago and seem to run to their own agenda. When did their current affairs team even bother to look out beyond the TVNZ ivory tower and actually try to connect with their viewers? It is little surprise that most of us have gone elsewhere for our TV entertainment