Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed the CALM Act, directing the Federal Communications Commission to adopt regulations controlling the volume of commercials on television broadcast stations, cable systems, satellite, and other multichannel video programming providers. This bill was passed by the Senate in September. Once signed by the President, the Federal Communications Commission will be required to adopt a rule to implement the legislation within one year, and the rule is to become effective within one year after its adoption. The FCC rule is to adopt parts of the ATSC A/85 standard, which seeks to target the volume of commercials in digital programming to the volume of dialogue (or other “anchor element”) in the accompanying program. An interesting description of the issues that must be addressed in determining just what is "loud," and for controlling that volume, can be found in a recent Wall Street Journal article (here, subscription may be required).
Congressional estimates are that the costs of necessary equipment range from a few thousand dollars to $20,000 per device, for an aggregate industry cost of tens of millions of dollars. Congress anticipated that the costs may be burdensome for small cable operators and smaller market television broadcasters, and provided that waivers may be granted for financial hardship for one year renewable terms The Commission may also grant waivers or exemptions from the rule that it adopts for classes of broadcasters and multichannel video programming distributors under the FCC’s general waiver authority.
Although the ATSC A/85 standard recommends techniques for handling program-to-interstitial transitions, commercials may still seem loud to viewers when compared to the quiet dialogue that might precede a commercial break. Congress has tried to insulate broadcasters and multichannel video programming providers from responsibility for how commercials sound subjectively, by providing that commercially reasonable efforts to install, use, maintain and repair the equipment required by the FCC-adopted rule will be deemed compliance with the rule.
This legislation has been very popular in Congress, as it apparently the source of many complaints from constituents. So expect the FCC to move quickly to adopt the necessary rule to implement the legislation. Watch for this implementation process to begin in the coming months, and start planning for your transition in the not too distant future.