Maybe it’s my imagination, but I swear that the volume of commercials on TV is louder than the programs. Each time a commercial comes on, I scramble for the remote and turn the volume down. When the program comes back on I have to pump it up again or I can’t hear what is being said. This is really beginning to aggravate me. I wondered if it might have something to do with the settings on the cable box and indeed, when I scrolled through the settings I discovered an option for the audio volume control that let me set it to ‘fixed’ or ‘variable.’ I tried both settings but there was no appreciable difference; later I learned (on Google) that this setting is only used to keep the volume constant on any auxiliary equipment hooked up to the TV, such as a DVD player. Hmmm. Back to the drawing board.
Next I Googled “TV commercial volume” and got another education. The Federal Communications Commission does not regulate the volume of TV programs or commercials, however broadcasters must limit the peak power they can use to send out their audio signals. That means the loudest TV commercial can never be louder than the highest volume of any TV program. With programs, the volume varies between soft and loud, depending upon the dramatic effect the program is attempting to create. Commercials, on the other hand, are not concerned with dramatic effect. Their only goal is to grab your attention and keep it for 30 seconds. To do that, the audio track is made as loud as possible within legal limits. Without highs or lows, the commercial seems much louder than the surrounding programming.
I also discovered that there is a solution to this problem. About a year ago, Dolby Laboratories developed technology to level out the sound differences between TV programs and commercials, and the technology was expected to be built into TV’s by the end of last year. Yes! I thought. My TV is brand new, so it will probably have this feature. Excitedly I dug out the manual and flipped through the pages. The technology is indeed part of the LG TV’s, but only the 26 inch model – the expensive one. I bought the cheaper 19 inch model, so no such luck.
Time for plan B. Rather than fiddling with the volume each time a commercial comes on, I’ve decided to use the mute button. I mute the volume during the commercial break and unmute when the program comes back on. Take that, all you greedy advertisers! Maybe this mute thing will even catch on. If everyone reading this blog writes about the idea or talks about it, the word could spread like wildfire. When we reach critical mass – when perhaps 25% of all viewers are muting commercials – then I’ll bet the advertisers will take notice. Maybe then they’ll do something to fix the problem.