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A blog about television and radio with Paul Casserly

Paul Casserly: OMG! The Ridges are louder than the ads

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Sally and Jaime Ridge are officially louder than TV ads. Photo / Supplied
Sally and Jaime Ridge are officially louder than TV ads. Photo / Supplied

I watched The Ridges the other night, but not to pass judgment, like the rest of you mean-spirited Twitter trolls. I had loftier reasons: I was doing it for science.

After all, what better way to test my theory about the loudness of ads, compared to actual programs, than to focus on a show featuring a couple of lovely, loud, laughing ladies.

There comes a point in your life when you start complaining about things and you don't stop. There are signs: You moan that cops look like 12 year olds, you mutter about "brain damage" when you see people riding bikes without helmets, and most concerning of all, Bob Jones starts to make a lot of sense.

If you start complaining that the ads on TV are too loud then you have reached this point. It is the point of no return.

Many of us only watch TV via a PVR and fast forward the ads or are lightning fast with the mute button, but sometimes we are forced to watch in real time, or we simply forget, and then we get the blast, typically from someone yelling about someone called Harvey or Noel.

I've always thought that the ads seem much louder because, well, they are. But are they really? And what's the point moaning about it, it's not like anyone will pass a law to turn them down.

I'll share the results of my Advert Volume Experiment in a moment, but there are actually legal measures being introduced to deal with excessive ad volumes, just not in New Zealand.

The Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, or CALM Act, which gives the Federal Communications Commission "the task of ensuring TV commercials aren't louder than TV programs," comes into effect in the US this December.

The British already have a similar law, as have the Canadians and the French.

Apparently it was part of Labour's broadcasting policy here in New Zealand before the last election. Kiwiblog posted about it, which naturally generated plenty of comments about the "nanny state" as well as this rather good one liner: "Labour thinks the Government should intervene over the audio level of advertisements? - It's their first sound policy."

Of course the problem seems worse if an ad break comes in the middle of The Killing than it does say during Wipeout, or indeed The Ridges, because of something called "dynamic range".

Put another way, a blood-curdling scream on American Horror Story is say a 10, while Miriama Kamo emotively scrunching up her face and expelling a sigh after a sad story on Sunday is more like a gentle 2.

The real reason that the ads sound louder is that they often maintain the full 10 for the full 30 seconds. This diagram from Wired magazine explains the principle rather well.

As I understand it, the networks here run everything through some sort of box with lights on it that makes everything come out pretty evenly. But there's no legal requirement with regard to this compression.

But even if we had legal intervention, would the networks enforce it? Some three years after the law was passed in the UK, tech nerd Patrick Steen reported: "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."

This led me to conduct my own experiment to see if New Zealand ad breaks are better or worse than the rest of the world. The time was 7.30pm on Wednesday. I tuned my TV, which comes via my Sky decoder, to TV3.

I had already downloaded a free app called "Decibel" which measures audio volume. I placed my iPhone, or decibel meter, on a pouf, approximately 1725mm from the TV and began the experiment with the help of my two lovely assistants Sally and Jaime.

During the programme The Ridges averaged around 68-70 decibels but peaked as high as 80 when Sally chased Jamie with the hairball she found in the shower and Jaime squealed and ran down the hallway.

It cracked a full 82 decibels when the "wild" mouse appeared and Jaime screamed and jumped on the chair before carefully handing mum her bag whimpering: "It has my iPad in it."

Then came the ad break. The average was a little higher at 69 - 73 decibels, but the maximum, which came at the beginning of a Bed Bath and Beyond commercial, was only 79.

It's official: The Ridges are louder than the ads.

Follow Paul Casserly on Twitter.

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