Monday, June 13, 2011

Loud Commercials

Nigel: The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and...
Marty: Oh, I see. And most amps go up to ten?
Nigel: Exactly.
Marty: Does that mean it's louder? Is it any louder?
Nigel: Well, it's one louder, isn't it? It's not ten.
- This is Spinal Tap
Do you find loud commercials annoying? Have you thought, there ought to be a law against that?

According to Wired.com there is a law but it does not help. The FCC regulates the maximum volume that a show or ad may use. TV shows broadcast most of the time below this maximum; saving the max for gunshots, explosions, yelling, etc. (See graph above)  Many ads set the volume to max for the entire 10-30 seconds since they don't need to worry about a difference between normal and loud.

I'm reminded of the harpsichords vs the piano. Bach (1685 – 1750) was a master of the harpsichords but it had a serious limitation - all notes had the same loudness. Around 1700, Italian instrument maker Bartolomeo Cristofori created a new instrument where the loudness of the note matched the force with which you hit the key. He called the "quiet-loud" in Italian, PianoForte. It was very difficult to make, very expensive, and smaller than the modern Piano with just 5 octaves of keys. Bach disliked the early models but by mid-century the quality had improved and it was the instrument of choice for Mozart(1756 – 1791). Beethoven (1770–1827) pushed the instrument beyonds its limits in dynamic range and was famous for breaking the PianoFortes. From 1790-1860 the instrument was strengthened and improved to become the modern Piano.

So TV shows are like Pianos. Played at a modest level of with occasional fortissimo of loudness for effect. Ads are like harpsichords - played a one level only - loud.

Bottom Line

If you really hate loud commercials, write to your congressman asking for a better law that regulates the average loudness as well as the maximum.

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