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Of all the pressing problems Congress has on its plate these days, the most vexing of them apparently is loud TV commercials.
Yes, there's potential for conflict in North Korea; and yes, our government's deficit is at unthinkable levels. But thankfully all of those will take a back seat to getting advertisers to turn down the volume as they mull passage of the Commercial Advertising Loudness Mitigation Act, or CALM Act (must every bill have a cutesy name?).
I can't hear you!
We all know the annoyance that accompanies a TV show switching to a commercial, and at some point we've all scrambled for the remote to hit the mute button. The Federal Communications Commission determined back in 1984 that there was no fair way to determine apparent loudness, and in fact, suggests the mute button just might be the best way to control the sound.
Commercials are already limited to be no louder than the loudest sound in the show they follow, but because that can last just a second -- the sound of a gunshot for example -- or they'll follow a particularly quiet moment in a show, they can actually sound comparatively loud.
Apparently, it's an important enough concern that there's even a United Nations working group studying this calamity. Whether that should make it rise to a level requiring congressional action is another matter.
Actually, it is the same matter
The private sector is already combating this runaway epidemic, and as you might expect, sound specialist Dolby Labs (NYSE: DLB ) is leading the way. Dolby Volume is an audio leveling technology providing consistent volume control across programs. While Dolby doesn't expect to gain much in the way of revenues, if Panasonic (NYSE: PC ) , Phillips (NYSE: PHG ) , Sony (NYSE: SNE ) , or Vizio began incorporating the technology into their sets, it would make for a nice cottage industry for Dolby.
While it's possible Dolby's technology would still prosper if the CALM Act is enacted, the likely outcome is Congress will kill the fruit of its research and development on the vine. California Rep. Anna Eshoo (D) isn't looking to the private sector for technological solutions. Rather, she's pushing to have the FCC mandate loud commercials illegal, and giving TV and cable operators like Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA ) and Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC ) a year to comply.
Can I have your attention, please?
In a world of TiVos (Nasdaq: TIVO ) and DVRs allowing consumers to fast-forward through advertisements, companies need to grab consumers' attention. Sometimes the ear-bleeding levels they use to grab us by the lapels seem like overkill, but then again having Congress divert its attention from truly important matters to address issues like this seems a bit over the top, too.
Next year, it's likely we'll have less in our wallets but won't have to worry about some huckster yelling at us about his insane prices. Now if we could just get Congress to do something about all those political ads that pollute the airwaves every fall, we might be making some real progress.