/ Technology

Are LOUD TV ADS still a problem?

Watching TV is often a case of whispers and explosions – the very quiet film followed by the extremely loud advert. But do we still have a problem with excessively loud ads or is it a figment of my imagination?

Advertisements – unless we want to pay a subscription or licence, we’ve got to live with them. But sometimes their presence is so obnoxious that I’m either forced to change the channel or walk out of the room and make a cup of tea until they’re over.

However, there’s something that annoys me more about adverts than any perceived obnoxiousness – their volume. More often than not when I’m watching a film, the following ads will be so loud that the shock creates a visible gap between my bottom and my seat.

Sound level rules tackle loud ads

Last week, France introduced new rules to tackle this very problem. The country will be monitoring the “subjective loudness” of ads, since it’s said that the problem is not that the ads are actually louder than the programmes, but that commercials have been digitally compressed, making them seem more intense.

We’re also pretty lucky in the UK. In 2008 new rules were added to the TV advertising code that ruled ‘advertisements must not be excessively noisy or strident’. And they aimed to directly tackle this “subjective loudness” with the following guideline:

‘Maximum subjective loudness of advertisements must be consistent and in line with the maximum loudness of programmes and junction material.’

But is the code actually working? Are loud ads still out there and, if so, why?

Staying within the volume range

In my view, most advertisers are probably abiding by the sound levels code, but it’s not necessarily resulting in quieter ads. In other words, they’re getting around it.

Broadcasters will use the full range of loudness for their programmes, say from volume one (whispering) all the way up ten (explosions).

This means that they can emphasise big action scenes and create suspense when there’s quiet dialogue. It also means that everyday conversations, which make up most of a programme’s content, will be somewhere in the middle range.

Conversely, advertisers don’t need to worry about this range – all they care about is what volume they can get away with – the full ten. This means that they’re following the code, even though the ads feel much louder than the films or programmes they surround.

The ASA steps in

However, last year the Advertisement Standards Authority (ASA) was forced to step in when complaints about ads broadcast during an episode of Sherlock Holmes on ITV3 said they were too loud. The ASA ruled that eight of the adverts broke the sound levels code.

ITV argued that although much of the audio in Sherlock Holmes was silent, when the characters argued or shouted they were just as loud as the loudest parts of the ads. The ASA countered this by saying that the adverts ‘must not be excessive and must be more consistent with the surrounding programme material’.

So it looks like the ASA is looking at more than just adverts sticking within the one to ten volume range, it has upheld a complaint which said that the ads were not consistent with the volume of the actual programme.

Perhaps my dislike for loud ads is completely outdated? Maybe there isn’t even a problem any more? Or, like me, are you still annoyed by the “subjective” loudness of TV ads?

Do you get annoyed by loud TV adverts?

Yes (98%, 984 Votes)

I don't think TV ads are loud (1%, 12 Votes)

No (1%, 10 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,005

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I usually set my PVR to record what I want to watch, then sit down and watch it about ten minutes after broadcast. THis allows me to fast skip the ads, and the programme catches up so it finishes about the right time in real time.

Robert hurlow says:
21 October 2011

Yes this is a good idea, and one my wife has used for some time. It is quite rare to watch a “live” programme these days. Sky+ well worth having.

Allan Ford says:
17 October 2011

It is not a figment of your imagination, my wife sits with the zapper in her hand, she spends the entire viewing time switcheg the volume up and down. It drives me crazy so I retire to my computer and rarely ever watch TV. I only have TV in the house because my wife is disabled and it is her main entertainment in life. Adverts on TV need to sound regulated or be charged with committing sound polution and fined heavily. Hit their pockets that usually gets results, money comes before people just ask this government, maybe not? they will only lie.

I hardly ever watch commercial TV, so all I have to put up with is the BBC advertising other programmes. On the rare occasion that I do watch commercial TV I do what Alistair describes to skip the adverts.

Fabien says:
17 October 2011

Being subscribed to Roger’s Cable (in Canada), all of their ads are excessively loud. I never had a problem with any ads being loud to the point of bothering me before but these are loud enough that I have to mute my TV because if there’s people in another room, they’re wondering why the heck the volume is so loud. Great job there if they get people’s attention by having them mute whatever it is they’re trying to shove down my throat… or in this case, ears I suppose 😛

Paranoimia says:
17 October 2011

“Advertisements – unless we want to pay a subscription or licence, we’ve got to live with them.”

Well, that’s almost completely separate debate, since practically every channel which requires a subscription still advertises. We are on the Virgin Media XL package, which means that we get many channels which are not ‘free to air’ (such as Sky1), so while it’s not technically a subscription, you can’t get them without paying a fee – and they still advertise.

Then there are the actual subscription channels like Sky Movies and Sky Sports – all of which charge a small fortune and still advertise, then want a further fee if you want to watch in high definition; and until recently, that hi-def fee was per decoder box!

But yes, adverts are still too loud. And too frequent. There should be no less than 15 minutes between ad breaks, and they should last no longer than 3 minutes – as well as being at the same volume as the programmes. There should be no allowance at all for ads to be louder than the programmes.

That said, I record absolutely everything on TV now, simply so that I can spin through the adverts.

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Vonph says:
18 October 2011

Yes it is a problem! Sometimes I think they are so loud my tv speakers are going to blow.

I want to be able to immerse myself into whatever I’m watching, not have to be looking out for the black and white advert indicator in the top right, so I can ready the volume button.

Adverts are still louder. I’m so fed up with it I seldom watch any live TV. I even record live sports events so I can skip through the adverts. Surely, if so many people are doing this the advertisers are losing out. It’s in their best interest not to annoy everyone.

Gareth says:
18 October 2011

this is so annoying! when i watch tv in bed i have to be respectful of my housemates sleeping in the rooms beside me so keep it “low”. Then ads come one and the the twit with the tash belts out a moronic tune likely waking anyone in the 3 mile radius

Same here as I always record on my PVR to avoid the adverts, more-so at night when they would normally blast away with the background music. I watch a lot of TV series at what sounds like normal volume to me, my Onkyo says -46dbs.

I am lucky however, that I have a Night Time (on mine it also works as Dynamic Volume) mode selector on my Audio Receiver so any spikes are automatically filtered which lowers the volume. Most useful to avoid lowering the volume too much in waiting for the adverts.

Btw, what is the volume spikes like in cinemas advertisements because the speech levels seems quite high.

John Symons says:
19 October 2011

My wife always cuts the volume on the Sky remote from ca 60 to ca 20 when the adverts come on. We have to reduce the volume because they are so loud. Advertisers shoot themselves in the foot because we never listen to their adverts, having turned the volume down too far in disgust.We have also never noticed any useful information in an advert

Jonathan says:
21 October 2011

You forgot the option in your poll: no problem for me, I stopped watching TV

John McC says:
21 October 2011

Adverts in my house now automatically get “muted”. The main reason, as well as noise, is the never ending stream of financial services and price comparison websites. Insurance, car and other, are the worst offenders. The question has to be asked how much would our premiums come down if there was a cap put on the money spent on advertising by these banks and insurance companies. Speaking personally, we as a family avoid dealing with these “in your face” companies.

Sucal says:
21 October 2011

The same goes for BBC trailers which I feel are simply adverts for TV programmes and the news introductory music is always excessively high. I mute the ads if I am watching live TV.
Thank goodness for remote controls.

I have a true Hi-Fi system, so the sound quality when Dolby Digital is being used is very high. My SS speakers (B&W 703s) are capable of producing wide-range quality sound.

The worst are those that have artificially emphasised bass and used strong dynamic range compression techniques to make all the sounds level virtually maximum. Those annoying ‘sponsor’ jingles at the start and end of each part are often the biggest offenders. Do they escape the guidelines because they are not considered adverts?

And the BBC switching DD on/off constantly between programs is another real nuisance.

I also dislike the idiotic way that directors are now playing (often inane) musak when someone is reading a list and the wiz sounds as banners are displayed or removed. These directors are not enhancing the programs’ enjoyment one tiny bit. Send them all back to skewl.

This is looking almost unanimous – we are all recording on SKY+ and skipping through the adverts, especially because of volume but also because we choose not to watch them. The advertisers must be daft. Meanwhile all this income just serves to cause hyperinflation in the cost of sporting broadcasting, with a predictable disaster looming for over-spent football clubs when the bubble bursts.

I pay a small fortune to SKY and really object to them still trying to forcefeed adverts to me.
There was a device a few years ago (TiVo I think) which could automatically skip adverts. It was banned of course so we are all having to become slick button-pushers. I would actually pay extra for advert-free channels if offered, but in the meantime watch mainly BBC output.

ElRolfo says:
21 October 2011

We watch live TV only on BBC; ITV, etc is recorded so we can fast-forward the advertisements.
It is not only the volume but the repetition that irritates. For this reason we would never buy from a company that advertises ion TV

James says:
21 October 2011

It is initially fair enough to have a poll but surely some form of official complaint should have been used for us to sign and post on Facebook etc. so that eventually we may officially win the volume battle.

Yes, this is a real pet hate of mine.

I’m a Virgin Media customer, and the on-demand and catch-up TV services are great because you can avoid the adverts altogether, as others here have mentioned. But even with that you can’t avoid them entirely – you still get the ultra-loud ads playing while you’re browsing programmes and choosing what to watch on the on-demand service itself. It’s inescapable!

Like so many others, on commercial channels I just set my PVR to record and start watching 15 minutes later, It’s extraordinary to think that before PVRs I wasted between 12 and 15 minutes of every hours’ TV watching on adverts. I enjoy my TV, I would pay extra to have no ads, maybe even above Sky’s high prices. The adverts are louder than the programmes and that is another reason to skip them, judging by the reaction here, advertisers might wish to review this crazy idea. The only downside for me is that I fill in surveys for a big national shopping monitoring company and every time I get a survey asking about adverts on TV I have to answer “Don’t Know” to most of the questions!!!

Thomas Wilson says:
21 October 2011

Can nothing be done to stop those buggering drums and the juvenile hullaballoo which dominates so many transmissions? It doesn’t make me strain my ears to listen to the message, it drives me to hit the mute button. Seems that the industrial psychologists have pronounced that the racket will make us listen more intently to the message. Not me mate. No, not even subliminally.

Yrs. etc. Very Irate. Tunbridge Wells.