/ 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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Even the BBC is guilty of playing mid program links much louder than the rest. Has anybody noticed Watchdog links? They have me reaching for the remote volume!

I think the adverts are usually too loud – i.e. they sound louder than the programme(s) they interrupt. When watching a film or drama with the volume up at ‘exciting’ levels, an ad break often makes me rush for the volume control. Whenever possible, I record the programme so I can skip the adverts, mainly for this reason.

It does seem short-sighted and counter-productive for advertisers to be making their target audience avoid them whenever possible, mute them when they can’t avoid them, and be generally exasperated by them. I suppose this is why they are increasingly using clever CGI to insert product placement into material originally produced without. This is now being done even with classic films.

Good point JR. Now that is one programme that really does seem louder than most adverts, the intro and the video to Watchdog towards when they show their logo. Considering it’s a low to mid volume, speech-based programme, why do they feel the need to keep deafen us? The music is well out of kilt with the rest of the programmes volume, I do notice Anne Robinson having to shout to get her voice heard over the top.

les morrow says:
21 October 2011

we record the decent programmes on the commercial channels and watch them at our leisure,but yes the ad’s do get louder. Whats more annoying is loud music played over the sound track.Please OFCOM or whoever get this sorted.

Norman Grimmette says:
21 October 2011

I agree with all that has been said before. However if you do listen to an advert the dialogue is usually clear. Much better than drama programmes with loud background music and noise also actors speaking with their backs to camera.

David P says:
21 October 2011

I thought that there was a code of practice regarding the increase in sound levels for adverts dating back many years, around about the time of the problems with subliminal images. I guess this would have been 25 years ago. Advertisers are going to keep on doing this and the TV companies will continue to allow it until some form of proper control is introduced by Gogernment

Brian says:
22 October 2011

I find that it is not just the sound level on the adverts which are too high but so often the background music overwhelming the spoken dialogue in many programs. This totally ruins many a good program both on BBC and ITV.

Ancillary to what has been discussed here and hopefully not too off-topic, how many computer users rig up their audio to their hi-fidelity system for a superior listening experience.

Believe commercial TV channels available on computer do not have annoying adverts and come to think
of it, neither has the i player.

I have a WMC (windows media centre) hooked up to my Panasonic HD TV via an Onkyo AV Receiver. It uses a Black Gold quad tuner (2 HD FreeView and 2 x HD FreeSat) and Blu-Ray using PowerDVD.

Although this setup is able to overcome some of the Ad problems, the quality of iPlayer and other Internet sources just isn’t up to over-the-air broadcast quality. It’s a pity though!

its not just loud adverts. occasionally i find a tv show/channel that is a good few notches below the tv show/channel i’ve just switched over from. i then raise the volume to a reasonable level and then the next show comes on making me jump out of my skin, in the evening especially.

I download all my tv from the internet and watch them in my own time with no adverts. I will never wast my time watching adverts ever again.

Colin says:
23 October 2011

When that ads come on we immediately mute the television because the difference in volume is so marked. Surely that defeats the objectives of the advertisers themselves and they should be encouraging the broadcasters to stop this behaviour too?

Phillip says:
26 October 2011

I have been reading the comments whilst listening to Keith Skues on Radio Essex via the BBC iPlayer and have to report that I have not had to adjust the volume once. Both the speech and the various types of music (from the thirties to the sixties) have been perfectly balanced. If they can do it on Radio why can’t they do it for TV…….? Better class of technician perhaps?
I too have found that adverts are frequently broadcast at a higher level than the preceeding and subsequent programmes especially on the BBC(!) which results in a quick grab of the remote in order to press the mute button. It is so irritating and unnecessary plus it completely negates the point of the Ad.
Those who are fast forwarding through the commercial breaks are also missing some decent adverts at the moment. Do they know that the Tetley Teafolk are back?
Another problem that has already been mentioned is the fact that some programmes seem to be at a lower sound level. I have found this to be so with the (few) American series that I have followed that seem to be consistently recorded at a lower sound level, but the broadcasters ought to bring the levels up to the same as their other stuff.

Does the ASA monitor these messages and the Poll?
I see the FCC have kicked in on this too. “FCC (finally) cracks down on BLARING! TV! ADS!” http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/12/13/fcc_loudness_rules/

Can we finally get this cracked in the UK?

Artov says:
24 December 2011

Good to see an almost universal hate of this ridiculous practice. It says a lot about the stupidity of marketeers and advertisers that they persist in this practice which alienates their entire target audience!

Mark says:
24 January 2012

The fact 99% agree is fantastic I am not surprised at all. I must say compressed audio or apparently high level sounds on adverts is one of the most annoying practices, forces us to micro manage TV viewing. Such a waste of time. At home we too do the skipping adverts or use mute so self defeating advertising.

It’s also pretty annoying that Films and TV are now mainly “realistic dialogue” so mostly guttural whispers and then extremely loud action noises and loud music forcing us to constantly use the volume remote. With all these remotes being used 100x more than they should be I guess it’s not helping global warming lol.

nick says:
7 November 2012

Ads are too loud, but I don’t understand why we still have to pay a tv license, and be defend at the same time, either a license? Or crappy loud ads? Looks like the BBC getting the beat of both, and monopolising.

nick says:
7 November 2012

Best of both sorry.

tivo box equals fast forward quickly, whats an advert!

Kevin says:
3 January 2013

I have written to channel 4 this week as their ad breaks at dinner time (Come Dine With Me, Simpsons) feel almost twice as loud as the programme.

I rarely complain but this is driving me mad, I either have to mute the TV or change channel.

What is their thinking behind this as I do not watch the louder ad breaks. If anything it prevents me “experiencing” the advertising.