Consequences of Corporate America’s Unwillingness to Self Regulate
“Turn it down a bit, that’s way too loud”, her voice pleaded from the bathroom sink. “Turn it up a bit, I can’t hear” she said when she turned off the bathroom light and came into the bedroom. Of course she was talking about the noise levels on the TV and the annoying habit of commercials being broadcasted at twice the decibel level than the show you’re watching.
There’s probably been a few nights where you’ve been watching your favorite show, or just flipping through channels, and before you realized what’s happening, you fell asleep as the sound of the TV droned on. And then, without warning, a commercial comes on the air and shrieks you back into consciousness. Very unpleasant, but at least it tells you to turn the darn thing off.
Apparently it’s a problem that many people have been clamoring about for some time and in a world where advertising and programming execs had any sense at all, this problem would have been taken care of a long time ago by a self regulating industry. After all, it’s already hard enough to find the right sound balance for two people with a different set of ears, let alone having to deal with this annoying volume increase during commercials. And if commercials and TV promos are blocked together in a program break, the remote control gets a tickle attack. And so, since the corporate nitwits once again did not listen to their customers’ wishes, this issue of non concern turned into yet another LAW on the books.
Congress listened and last December they officially passed the CALM Act signed by Obama on December 15, which is specifically meant to address the fact that TV advertisements are way too loud in relation to the regular programming. Since it’s a definite pet peeve of mine I have been keeping an eye on potential changes in the world of broadcasting, since this CALM Act will be enforceable by December 14 this year. Sadly I have to report that so far NOTHING has changed. I still carry a shimmer of hope that the Fall Season programming will bring better balanced sound levels, but I don’t have high hopes so far.
Another Government Agency at the Trough
CALM stands for Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, or CALM Act . I swear they must have some clever word smiths employed in Washington to come up with these acronyms.
And that’s exactly where my beef starts. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had nothing about regulating the volume of programs or commercials in its operating charter. It correctly assumed that Broadcasters and program producers would see the benefit of complying with their customers’ wishes, and therefore left them with complete latitude to vary the “loudness” of the program material. But when mounting complaints of the TV watching public were arrogantly disregarded for a long period of time, the whole issue became politically viable. The industry claimed that “high end” equipment could regulate the sound volume through devices such as Automatic Gain Control Circuits, Limiters, Filters and Audio Compressors and there was no reason to self regulate. Of course they complete ignored one major fact. All the complaints came from Main Street, where the average TV does not carry these expensive features.
So the Government stepped in and produced the CALM Act, which will create another monitoring and reinforcement department inside of the FCC, with a staff, vehicles, an office, expense accounts and a budget. And the Tax Payer, the same one who complaint, now has to carry the financial burden of yet another government service that should not have been necessary in the first place.
And that fellow Americans, is just a small token of the sad vicious circle we’re in, where corporations that exist because of their customers, ignore these customers wishes or complaints, who then ask their political representatives to do something to protect them against the corporations. As we all know, politicians live by numbers and if the number of complaints is substantial enough, they’ll climb the soapbox and demand action. The consequence of this course of events is what I call capital destruction: Money paid out to structures and lobby interests that should have never even seen daylight, let alone be the cause for yet more government involvement. If corporate America wants less government, then it needs to embark on a major course change towards self regulation. If they don’t, the public will accept that government’s job is to regulate every minor annoyance out of their lives as they develop an implicit sense that, when problems arise, the way to fix them is to beg Congress, pass a law, wait for new irritations to arise, then wash, rinse, repeat. Personally I think that consequence is far more grating and obnoxious than volume manipulation from advertisers on the idiot box, but Corporate America doesn’t seem to get it. No wonder my wife watches most of her shows now on her Mac without commercial interruptions and many of our friends DVR their shows. Like John Popper sang: There is a Price to Pay.