Category Archives: TV formats

All the way to…6?

FCC tells advertisers to CALM down, lowers the volume on commercial breaks — Engadget.

In yet another sign of the encroaching Big Brother Nanny State, the FCC has decided Americans are not capable of adjusting their TV’s volume controls up and down 32 times in a given Fox Sunday football game.  Starting next December, commercials in the U.S. will no longer allowed be allowed to exceed the volume of the broadcasts they interrupt.

As someone who is 2 AAA batteries short of home theater mastery, needing to hop up from the couch to put the muzzle on the Bud Light announcer and then hop up again 3 minutes later to jack the volume so I can hear the play-by-play, I can’t wait until next December. As someone who gets paid to make my advertising clients happy, I’m a little more conflicted.

Rare is the client who, at the audio mix session, doesn’t think it should be louder even when we’ve already “pinned the needle”–that is, made it as loud as it can be without risking distortion during broadcast. And, noxious as that seems, there is at least some evidence that says going all the way to 11 is smart marketing.

Speaking of going to 11, I’ve found out the hard way that many people in their 20s and 30s have never seen Spinal Tap. See it. See it tonight. And in the meantime, here’s the relevant clip:

"It's one more louder."

Like the roadies who rigged Nigel Tufnel’s Marshall amp with a volume control that went to 11, just to stop him from whinging about insufficient loudness, audio engineers in our biz have developed scamscoping mechanisms to make clients happy: playing tracks through monstrous speakers, fiddling with controls without actually boosting the levels…hey, you do what you gotta do.  But their problems, and by extension, the industry’s, will be that much worse next year. My clients, being largely in healthcare, are an appropriately subdued lot. But what if your client is Coors Light? What do you do when you’re legally barred from being any louder than Troy Aikman?

Here’s a suggestion: go for contrast. Trying to outshout meatheads on sportscasts or reality-TV shows is futile. Buy quiet shows. Nature programs. Televised Mass. News Hour with Jim Lehrer. David Brooks is the loudest voice on that show, around a 6 on Nigel’s amp. Mix to that level and you’ll sound like Crazy Eddie when your spots comes on next year.

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All out of proportion

Live sports, broadcast in HD, seen on a properly configured HD TV, is a visual treat. Watching commercials dropped into that broadcast: much less so. Last night watching the Yankees game I saw, in one commercial pod, the following:

–a spot letterboxed vertically and horizontally

–a spot stretched to fit 16:9

–a spot in 4:3 with vertical letterboxing

While TV manufacturers are busy hawking the next technology–3D–advertisers and their agencies and production partners are still coping with HD and widescreen.

Like Afghanistan, there are no good options, only bad and more bad. Consider: if you finish your spot in cinema (widescreen) 16:9, viewers with regular (4:3) TVs will see it horizontally letterboxed. If you finish it 4:3, viewers with widescreen TVs will either see it vertically letterboxed or stretched like Super Putty to fit the screen.

Wait, you say. Widescreen is here to stay, and so is HD. Maybe, but remember: that big beautiful 1080p screen needs to be properly configured and provided with HD signal. The first is beyond most people’s capability and the second is rarer than you think. Why do you suppose all those TVs in bars, gyms, banks and lobbies have their Fox talking heads all looking unnaturally wide (and Rush even more so)? Because no one set the controls. And all those Law & Order episodes cha-chunging away till for the rest of time? Low-def, baby.

The interesting thing (to me at least) is: no one outside the business even notices. First, because it’s a commercial break and who cares, and second, because in a world of Flips, grainy videos and 2-inch screens, production issues don’t matter much.

But take it from me: if you’re selling a weight-loss product, you do not want your client seeing her commercial with everyone in it looking like a double-wide trailer because it’s been stretched to fit the screen.