Canadian TV may get quieter after CRTC's issuing of new rules
By Jim Bray
Does it seem as if TV commercials blare a lot more loudly than the programs they interrupt? If so, you aren't alone – and a Canadian bureaucracy is taking steps to see that it stops.
As of September 1 of this year, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has deemed, Canadian broadcasters must knuckle under to the "Advanced Television Systems Committees (ATSC) standard for measuring and controlling television signals." This, the body says, will minimize fluctuations in loudness between programming and commercials.
The Advanced Television Systems Committee, by the way, is the organization that sets technical standards for digital television. It's groups such as these that mean we don't have VHS/beta-type wars breaking out among the HDTV's you buy. Can you imagine having to choose between two incompatible TV systems that only display their own native programming? If the CBC decided to broadcast in one and CTV in another, you'd only be able to watch one network.
Okay, so you probably wouldn't miss much. But that isn't the point.
It would be like North America's NTSC TV system competing head to head with the incompatible PAL system they use in Europe. And it would suck.
Anyway, the CRTC chose the ATSC-developed standards for TV volume and now the broadcasters are going to have to live with it – and apparently have to purchase and install equipment to make it all work: "To comply with the new regulations, broadcasters will install audio processors to measure the loudness of a program over its entirety and adjust the volume of commercials accordingly," according to the Member of Parliament, Nina Grewal, who proposed such standards in a private members' bill introduced in Parliament.
But that's the rub. While I agree that loud TV commercials can be a pain in the part of a person that gets used most when watching TV (not including the eyes), equally or more annoying is the volume disparity between the TV channels themselves, some of which come through loud and clear and some of which need to be cranked merely to be at a listenable level.
Some TV's claim to do this equalization of volume for you, though I've only tried one and it was nowhere near satisfactory (if it even worked at all).
It bugs me the most with our bedroom TV, a fairly recent vintage LCD which professes no equalization pretentions. I like to put on a vintage sitcom when we hit the hay, the TV switching shortly thereafter to an all music channel before shutting off for the night. But the music channel is appreciably louder than the vintage TV channel, and the difference is enough to wake you up – which kind of defeats the purpose of having music help lull you to sleep.
It's noticeable on other channels too, though, with volumes that seem to be all over the place, and on all my other TV's.
As to whether this new regimen courtesy of the CRTC will help in that regard, one can only hope. It doesn't look promising, though. According to the CRTC, "Broadcasters are also responsible for maintaining the volume of programs," which sounds encouraging, until you read the next sentence: "They must follow these rules and ensure that both programs and ads are transmitted at the same volume." So who knows?
Perhaps the biggest question is why the government is getting involved in this in the first place. Sure, the CRTC says it was moved to study, then act by consumer complaints; they claim over 7000 comments were made during its inquiry, and that Canadians "were overwhelmingly of the view that commercial advertisements were too loud and urged the CRTC to take action."
Yeah, run to the government for a solution. That's the Canadian way.
Perhaps people have been beating their heads against the wall trying to convince the broadcasters to tone down the commercial cacophony and, since the commercials are why the broadcasters are there in the first place, perhaps their pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Or maybe they have deaf ears because they've listened to too many loud commercials.
Maybe it took running to Mother Government to get action. I don't know. But couldn't government refuse to get involved (wow, there's a concept!) or even nudge instead of force, encourage rather than mandate? Why not suggest to Rogers, Quebecor, Shaw, Bell – and whoever else is left – that there's an issue they think should be addressed and they'd love to see them find a creative way to do it?
Heck, they could use it as a marketing tool, offering customers another great service to enhance their viewing experience.
But no, they're being forced by the power of government to ante up for new equipment, training, and the like – or else. How is that our much loved Canadian freedom?
Of course I'll be glad to see a more steady volume! If nothing else, it'll help my remote control's batteries last longer. But I'd rather see (or, in this case, hear) it happen naturally, because – to paraphrase others wiser than I – every time the government creates a new regulation, we lose just a little bit more of our freedom. And we've lost so much already.
It's like when the government outlawed smoking in restaurants and bars. I'm glad I don't stink when I come home from the pub any more (well, I don't stink from smoke, anyway), but I'd rather the government had stayed out of it.
There was already a movement toward going non-smoking, including some non-smoking bars and establishments that had fully segregated smoking and non-smoking sections. Then came Big Brother, propelled by the usual do gooders yelling about their cause du jour, and now you have to run a gauntlet of first and second hand smoke to get in or out of an establishment rather than avoid them altogether because they're in their own smoky den.
I guess it's okay to discriminate against smokers.
And don't get me started on bicycle helmets and such! Kids are going to grow up incapable of taking as much as a scratch and will end up with the gross physique of Waldo from the Robert A. Heinlein story of the same name.
How's that going to help us when the alien invaders arrive and we have to fight for the planet?
Of course it'll happen! I saw it on TV. It wasn't loud enough, though.
Copyright 2012 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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