Readers here know that I am no fan of government regulation. I often write about the unintended consequences that arise out of well-intentioned but less-than-well-executed laws and regulations which get enacted and end up doing more harm than good.
But not this time.
Some people in Washington, DC believe that the television business is in need of a small dose of government oversight to regulate the volume of commercials. It seems simple enough. Haven't we all lunged for the remote when a commercial comes on and it blasts the speakers practically out of the TV set?
Guided by a healthy dose of Mr. Smith common sense, Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA) proposed that people responsible for setting the volume on commercials adhere to standards in order to avoid that obnoxious blast when the furniture store proclaims that its selling sofas at their lowest price ever. She called on the FCC to review the situation and create a workable standard to which all could easily conform.
People in the industry reacted with the usual cries of concern about another "unnecessary intrusion by government." Unfortunately, the industry's negative reaction to the bill did not lead to much voluntary positive action to help stave it the legislation. It's been three months now and, while on a business trip this week, I was practically knocked out of bed by commercials all morning long.
There are many entities responsible for this issue -- broadcast and cable networks, local TV stations, cable and satellite distributors alike. And also the producers of the commercials, the ad agencies that place them and the advertisers themselves all have a hand in this.
And I plead guilty too.
I have heard our customers complain about this and I have discussed this situation with our engineers. There have been times when we were at fault and other times when the commercials were on the networks we carry and therefore beyond our technical reach.
I asked why it's so difficult to prevent this from happening. As you can imagine, I got an earful of perfectly logical reasons why this is far more complicated than it seems. For instance, there are different standard volumes on the TV programs themselves. Who hasn't cranked up the volume because Jack Bauer always seems to speak in whispers? So, at what level should the furniture store record the level if it's going to air both on Fox and CNN?
There is equipment that can monitor the "ambient" volume on stations and can clip the volume of commercials that exceed certain levels, relative to what program it's airing on. Indeed, the industries involved in this are trying to work out some standards that everyone can adhere to. But so far, with few tangible results.
As I said, it's complicated.
And that's why the legislation is important. It will keep everyone focused on the need to find a solution rather than simply declare the subject too difficult to fix. And, if there is disagreement over how to fix it among the various industries involved, the FCC can step in and determine what's in the best interest of the only group not participating in the discussions -- TV viewers themselves.
So it's not so simple. But hey, we can shoot a rocket into space and have it beam back close-up pictures of Saturn a few months later. We can do this too.