- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 18, 2009

House Democrats want to turn down the volume on your television set by ramping up the intrusiveness of government. It’s not a good trade-off, and in this case it’s not even necessary. The private sector is already regulating itself.

Pending legislation from Rep. Anna Eshoo, California Democrat, would make the Federal Communications Commission preclude commercials from being broadcast at, “louder volumes that the program material they accompany.” Television networks get thousands of complaints yearly about high-volume commercials even though the FCC already regulates broadcasters’ volume to the “peak level” of everything they send out. This means commercials already can’t be broadcast with higher audio levels than regular TV shows.

Volume is not the problem. The way in which commercial sound is mixed to take advantage of how humans hear things is the real issue. The organization that sets technical standards for television broadcasters is expected to soon approve its own recommended practices to ensure commercials don’t sound louder to viewers, making government regulation pointless.

Research shows human hearing takes into account both the loud and soft parts of what is heard, basically adjusting to the average. Knowing this, commercial makers often use various techniques - including amplifying softer sounds with digital processing - to make commercials artificially sound louder than regular programming without actually raising the overall volume.

The Advanced Television Systems Committee’s new standards would tag commercials with digital information that allows televisions and audio receivers to better process the audio, making the sound more palatable to listeners. Although voluntary, broadcasters are expected to adopt this technology, counterbalancing audio tricks without cumbersome and potentially costly federal regulation.

ATSC president Mark Richer told The Washington Times that the industry has a lot of momentum toward remedying the issue of loud commercials. “Whatever happens on the political, legislative and regulatory side, I hope it is nothing that slows up that momentum,” said Mr. Richer. “That would be a problem.”

If enacted, Ms. Eshoo’s bill will upset the apple cart. Broadcasters will not invest in private technical standards if there is any doubt about government intervention. How the FCC would enforce the bill is also unclear. The agency simply doesn’t have the resources to do it. Nor does it need to do so when the industry is fixing the problem on its own. As legendary TV huckster Crazy Eddie might yell at the top of his lungs, the redundancy is insane.