Hallefreakinglujah, loud TV commercials have been banned

Adam Weinstein at Mother Jones reports that the FCC’s ban on loud TV commercials went into effect last night at midnight!

Thank the freaking Lord.

The FCC has a page set up about the new rule, and where to report violators.

Q:   Will the new rules eliminate the problem of loud commercials?
A:   The rules should eliminate any systematic difference between the loudness of commercials and the loudness of the programming they accompany. The ATSC practice that Congress directed us to adopt does not set an absolute cap on loudness. Rather, it requires commercials to have the same average volume as the programming they accompany, so that the volume a consumer chooses is the one at which both the programming and the advertisements will air. We hope and expect that compliance with this practice will significantly reduce the problem of loud commercials for consumers.

This is all well and good, but what about enforcement?  The Do Not Call list’s enforcement has been questionable.  While the Do Not Call List works great for me, it hasn’t helped my friend Matt, or my parents, who are seniors, and who routinely get barraged by calls (apparently there’s a whole “thing” about telemarketing predators who go after seniors with scams, etc.)

noise loud tv commercials

Noise via Shutterstock

I know when I’ve written about loud TV commercials before there were some naysayer libertarian types (though they may have been conservative trolls) who worried about the impact on our overall freedom of limiting the volume of absurdly screeching TV commercials (first they came for the loud tv commercials…).  And I have a few responses to that.

First off, while I do buy the argument that we have to be careful of creeping infringements on our freedom, I tend to think that admonishment has more to do with, oh I don’t know, AT&T letting the government tap our phones without a warrant than the FCC taking away your right to yell in my eardrum because you think it will make me buy more Skittles.

But even more importantly, I have a theory.  I’ve not found anything online about it, but just wait a few years.  It’s about loud TV commercials and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder that can affect people who have been through an extremely stressful event (a lot of veterans get it, and I got it from living through September 11 in Washington, DC ).

PTSD is a difficult thing to explain unless you’ve lived through it yourself.  Suffice it to say, one of the possible triggers for a panic attack is loud noise.  I’m sure some of you know what I’m talking about, following September 11, when the police sirens simply would not stop, at least in DC, for a good six weeks – all day long, every few minutes, a new siren, the entire day.  For me at least, any loud noise, for at least the first few years after 9/11, would completely freak me out.  I’ve told the story before of siting in a restaurant with friends, I think it was 2003 or so, and the waiter dropped a tray of dishes somewhere behind me.  I suddenly broke into tears.  It was one of the strangest experiences of my life.  I got up and ran out of the restaurant.  Things are better now, but loud noise still sets me off more than it should.  And one of the loud noises that upsets me the most are TV commercials.

I am convinced that there’s a link between PTSD and loud TV commercials.  I’m not saying that the commercials necessarily cause PTSD, but I know for a fact that they aggravate it.  The loud noise coming on every five minutes, it can be jarring, depending on the commercial.  And for me at least, when the commercials really start to get on my nerves – they all have loud fast, excitable music, all of them – I get that familiar unsettling feeling start to well up that tells me this isn’t a “normal” reaction to the noise.

There are a lot of people in this country, especially military, who are suffering from symptoms of PTSD.  Estimates are that between 4% and 17% of US Iraq war vets have PTSD (a recent study showed 30% of vets treated by the VA have PTSD). How many vets is that?

Nearly 250,000.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has quietly released a new report on post-traumatic stress disorder, showing that since 9/11, nearly 30 percent of the 834,463 Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans treated at V.A. hospitals and clinics have been diagnosed with PTSD.

It also affects cancer patients, among others.  From Cancer.gov:

Reviews of the literature [1] note that post-traumatic stress has been studied in a variety of cancers, including melanoma, Hodgkin lymphoma, breast cancer, and mixed cancers. The incidence of the full syndrome of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (meeting the full Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition [DSM-IV], diagnostic criteria) ranges from 3% to 4% in early-stage patients recently diagnosed to 35% in patients evaluated after treatment. When incidence of PTSD-like symptoms (not meeting the full diagnostic criteria) are measured, the rates are higher, ranging from 20% in patients with early-stage cancer to 80% in those with recurrent cancer.

I’ve often wondered how many Americans have PTSD (or borderline cases) that are being aggravated by the excessive loudness of TV commercials.  And also, putting PTSD aside, to what degree the loudness of commercials is simply making people more nervous, on edge, and angrier.  I admit I don’t have absolutely proof, but I’ve wondered about this before.  We watch a LOT of TV – 4 minutes and 39 minutes on average every day.  And that equals a lot of commercials.  I just wonder to what degree, in a society where people already seem to be increasingly agitated as the years go on, the jarring noise from the idiot box, as my mom calls it, jumping out at you ever five minutes or so, over a nearly 5 hour period each day, doesn’t start to take its toll.

Let’s hope these rules work.  One concern already, the rules require “commercials to have the same average volume as the programming they accompany.”  On another page the FCC explains the dilemma:

 A commercial may have louder and quieter moments, but, overall, it should be no louder than the surrounding programming. This may mean, however, that some commercials will comply with the new rules, but still sound “too loud” to some viewers.

Well that’s disconcerting.  So the commercials can still be as loud as they’ve been, so long as they have a less loud period that “averages” the entire thing out to the same volume level as the show before it.  So if we’re watching a war move, the commercials can quite literally blow us out of seats, so long as they go silent for a period of time as well.  I can imagine commercials starting with a bang, to get your attention, then whispering.  We’ll have to see how this plays out, but if the advertisers start abusing the spirt of the rules, we may need to revisit it.

Still, it’s nice to know that Congress can do something right.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

Share This Post

  • R.U. Kiddingme

    I agree they are still very annoying… and I shopped around.. very,
    very few tv’s have this…it’s simply not true that they do. And if you
    find one with it it’s more expensive and a regular tv othewise…
    nothing in HD or 3D with this… *sigh* Also the ads still in 2013 are
    as loud or louder than they were. Why did Congress not deal with this
    completely instead of coming up with a half-*ssed way out for the large
    corporations to annoy us further in our daily lived… Once again they
    have solved nothing!

  • http://www.facebook.com/rpmcavoy Ryan Patrick McAvoy

    The commercial that just came on while watching the new How I Met Your Mother was definitely significantly louder than the show.. what gives?

  • Asterix

    I predict this will have little effect other than to make commercials more annoying. Consider that the average TV program may have a level of, say 85 dB. Now, without exceeding that 85 dB, all a commercial producer need do is compress the level of the commercial to be entirely at the 85 dB level and shorten the silent space between words. It’s probably already being done, but in a little while, I imagine all TV commercials will sound as if they were made by Billy Mays gargling crushed glass. Not only that, but the music will be incredibly annoying.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    lol oops, editing now, thanks

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    I knew years ago some TVs were advertised with this, but I’m not aware of my tv having it. I should check, make sure it’s not something you have to turn on. The commercials still drive me nuts, though the difference in volumes between channels is annoying too, and odd.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I’ll posit another category of people often adversely affected by sudden, loud noises: Migraine sufferers.

  • MyrddinWilt

    One of the reasons I am not blogging much at the mo is that I am working on a submission to the FTC/FCC enquiry for a proposal to stop robocalls. The problem is getting harder as the scummy callers are being replaced by the outright criminal.

    The loud TV commercial ban is more likely to stick because it is pretty easy to stick the TV broadcaster with a fine.

    Which will work for as long as people watch stuff on TV rather than via the Web like I now do. Apart from Stewart and Colbert its Netflix all the way for me now.

  • wearing out my F key

    After a great deal of searching, I discovered a series of “buttons” on my television, two of which allow me to control the volume of the television, even without the help of federal legislation!

    And although I’ve never seen one myself, other people have told me there is such a thing called a “remote control”. If you can somehow find one, you can apparently turn the volume up or down, change the channel, or even turn the television on and off …. from across the freaking room! It’s a bold time to be alive, my friends!

  • http://bit.ly/SYj39M << Work at home, $15/h, link

    If we have need of a strong will in order to do
    good, it is still more necessary for us in order not to do evil.

  • Houndentenor

    About effing time. I had started muting commercials when I wasn’t fast forwarding through them. Sometimes they are almost twice as loud as the show.

  • FunMe

    Do you own a TV for say Netflix or Amazon iPrime movies?

  • FunMe

    The few times I watch TV, I just used the mute button. It seems like a lot of work (it’s not), but well worth not having to hear annoying commercials. I’m the last person that marketing folks can persuade to buy something I don’t really need.

  • cfox

    considering that people have been requesting this since the 1960’s, this puts Congress on a par with the Catholic Church forgiving Galileo!

  • jomicur

    There’s nothing on the FCC page about specific exceptions to the law. The Do Not Call law permits nonprofits and political groups to make calls to people on the do-not-call list, and I’m wondering if there are similar exceptions to this law. During the recent campaign, teabagger congressional candidate Keith Rothfus routinely ran commercials so loud I was afraid they’d damage the audio on my TV (Rothfus was elected). It’s kind of hard to imagine congress passing a law that doesn’t include an exemption for themselves. They’re special people, after all.

  • Naja pallida

    Now that almost every modern TV has built in noise equalization that cancels this effect, and a good number of people DVR everything they watch, fast-forwarding through commercials anyway. Once again, the public and the market are a good 10 years ahead of legislation.

  • Anonymous

    I caught that too. I thought 4 minutes and 39 seconds was an awfully short amount of time to watch TV. How many commercials can you fit in that length of time? LOL

  • Ferry_Fey

    ” We watch a LOT of TV – 4 minutes and 39 seconds on average every day.” That would be 4 hours and 39 minutes, as per the link.

  • Butch1

    Good! I have Smart Sound on my TV but many TVs even adjust for that and pump up the volume even more. This has to stop. I hope it covers the Internet commercials as well. They have a way of hiding the volume controls when those commercials always pop up before every thing you watch. Getting sick of it.

  • Gindy51

    Can they do the SEC games next? When my husband is watching college football and switches to an SEC game, the volume goes up as much (or more) than the commercials on the stations. It is a pain in the ass to reduce the volume for one station.

  • OtterQueen

    Don’t they pass this legislation every few years? This is not the first time I’ve heard this.

    Anyway, the only things we watch “live” on cable are hockey games. *sigh* We watch a few other programs here and there, but just record them on the DVR. I programmed a button on the remote to skip ahead through the recording in 30-second jumps. I haven’t seen a commercial in months.

  • Drew2u

    MSNBC is a large offender of super-loud commercials. I think FX or USA is also a perpetrator.

  • UncleBucky

    I don’t have cable or satellite, and so I have only a jim-dandy converter box with an analog TV. The commercials still POPPED out aurally. Man. So, I am glad this is fixed. I HOPE it is fixed! :D

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    lol I haven’t quite broken that habit, doubt I will

  • nicho

    If I still watched TV, I’d be overjoyed.

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