The clock is ticking away the minutes until December 13, the effective date of the FCC’s new Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act (CALM Act) rules. TV broadcasters and multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) attending the upcoming NAB Show in Las Vegas will be looking for the equipment necessary to meet the CALM Act requirements, and they will have plenty to see and do. According to the NAB’s agenda for the Vegas Show, there will be seminars led by equipment manufacturers discussing the CALM Act and dozens of vendors and manufacturers on hand to showcase their CALM Act monitoring, processing, and verification equipment at the Las Vegas Convention Center during the event.
The reason CALM Act compliance and equipment are likely to be “big in Vegas” this year is because, as you may recall, last December the FCC adopted rules for the implementation of the CALM Act which require TV stations and MVPDs to keep the volume of commercials at the same level as the accompanying programming. The FCC’s new rules incorporate the Advanced Television Systems Committee’s (ATSC) Recommended Practice (RP), which essentially allows broadcast stations and MVPDs to comply with the rules by meeting the requirements of the ATSC protocol (known as the A/85 RP). Stations and MVPDs must be in compliance with the A/85 RP and the FCC’s rules by December 13, 2012.
The CALM Act arises from decades of complaints to the FCC and Congress regarding excessively loud commercials. In fact, according to the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the CALM Act proceeding, loud commercials “have been a leading source of complaints to the Commission since the FCC Consumer Call Center began reporting the top consumer complaints in 2002.” The subsequent rules adopted by the FCC are therefore designed to limit the volume of commercials transmitted to consumers and apply to advertisements locally inserted by television stations and MVPDs as well as to advertisements embedded in programs from third-party suppliers.
For locally inserted commercials, TV stations and MVPDs will be required to demonstrate that they have installed the necessary equipment to ensure compliance. The FCC will assume that a broadcast station or MVPD is in compliance if it has installed, uses, and maintains equipment that complies with the A/85 RP. For advertisements already embedded in programming received from third parties, networks and other program suppliers must certify that their programming is in compliance with the CALM Act.
The FCC’s rules establish a “safe harbor” for embedded advertisements received from suppliers. To use the safe harbor, TV stations and MVPDs are allowed to rely on certifications of compliance from their program supplier which certify that the programming is A/85 RP-compliant. For programming that has not been certified, “large” TV stations (i.e., those stations with more than $14 million in annual revenue) and “very large” MVPDs (i.e., those with over 10 million subscribers) may still transmit the third-party programming, but will be required to perform annual “spot checks” of 100 percent of the third-party programming they transmit. “Large” MVPDs (i.e., those with at least 400,000 subscribers nationally) will need to annually spot check 50 percent (chosen at random) of the noncertified channels carried by any system operated by the MVPD. The spot check requirements will phase out after two years. Small stations and cable systems do not need to conduct any spot checks to be in the safe harbor.
While many broadcasters and MVPDs won’t be at the NAB Show to attend “loudness legislation” seminars or to acquire the hardware and software tools needed to comply with the FCC’s CALM Act rules, all TV broadcasters and MVPDs need to make sure that they are familiar with the rules and understand their CALM Act obligations. Even though the CALM Act has been passed by Congress and is being implemented by the FCC, there is little doubt that the FCC will continue to hear complaints from consumers regarding loud commercials for the foreseeable future. The difference is that the FCC now has an enforcement mechanism to address those complaints.