Friday, November 23, 2012

Down, Boy, DOWN!!

"The time has come," the Walrus said, "to talk of many things..." *
...and now at an acceptable volume!
TVNZ, MediaWorks and Maori TV have agreed on compression technology that currently makes tv ads much louder than shows. NBR reports while the agreement offically starts 01 Jan.2013, TVNZ says it'll start this Sunday.
But the big question is: why do stations raise the ads' volume? Well, they don't really. And when they rattle off their pat reply (that "the ads are no louder than any of the other programming we broadcast - they just sound louder"), they're telling the truth. Sorta.
Y'see, a tv prog has a mix of audio levels - loud and soft parts. Most advertisers don't want soft parts. They want to grab your attention. To do that, the audio track is electronically processed (compressed) to make every part as loud as possible within legal limits: nothing is allowed to be subtle. It's all loud - the voices, music, sound effects (eg: like those godawful Big Save Furniture ads!). So the PEAK levels of commercials are no higher than the peak levels of prog content. But the AVERAGE level is far higher, and that's the level your ears care about. If someone sets off a camera flash every now and then it's one thing, but if they aim a steady spotlight into your eyes it's another, even if the peak brightness is no higher.
NBR says the biggest issue for broadcasters will be ensuring that content meets the new standards. Loudness measurement is a fairly new concept - audio mixers aren't used to it yet, and hardware and software to measure it isn't that common. Overseas, USA passed the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act (or CALM) in Dec.2010. France also moved to regulate blaring ads. Canada's new tv ad volume rules began last Sept. Here, broadcasters seem to have successfully headed off regulation with their own efforts.
Independent consumer research in July revealed 94% of 18-54yr.olds noticed the difference between ad and prog volumes. Presumably, the other 6% were deaf.

* ...extract from The Walrus and The Carpenter - Lewis Carroll]

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