CALM Act Implementation: Good News ... So Far

BTR_Feature_Art_CALM Things seem relatively peaceful and sedate - calm, in other words - in the four months since the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act took effect.

The placid adoption and early months of the CALM regulation may signal that the cable industry has taken care of business. Conversely, the current situation may be the calm (or CALM) before the storm as the FCC assesses where the situation stands and gathers complaints from subscribers.

Though things are quiet, there has been a bit of news on the CALM front. On April 4, both the SCTE and the Advanced Television Systems Committee - the group that sets the rules - made announcements.

The ATSC updated A/85, which it says is the "core technology mandated" by CALM. In essence, the ATSC is tweaking the way in which loudness is measured for enforcement purposes. More specifically, the update pegs measurement to the International Telecommunication Union recommendation ITU-R BS.1770-3. The press release provides some information on what this means.

The SCTE, in turn, announced the publication of Recommendations for Spot Check Loudness (SCTE 197 2013). The document, according to the SCTE, offers best practices for measuring audio in a single programming channel "aligned" with A/85. In essence, the SCTE document provides guidance on how to implement A/85 in the more complex environment of a multichannel cable operation, said Ralph Bachofen, the vice president of sales and head of marketing for Triveni Digital.

Cable planners are aware that audio monitoring and control is a difficult task. They provide hundreds of channels of programming and, except in the case of local avails, simply pass through ads that are already in the program stream - and for which they are responsible nonetheless. They have responded, said Ken Hunold, a staff engineer for audio production at Dolby (NYSE:DLB).  "I believe the cable industry actually is one of the first to get its arms around controlling the loudness of the content they deliver," he said.

CALM technology adoption is following a familiar industry pattern. Jim Welch, the senior consulting engineer for IneoQuest, said some operators have been proactive on CALM, while some of the smaller operators have not prepared. The latter group, Welch said, still is getting up to speed.

The wait-and-see attitude on the part of smaller players may have an extra dimension in this case. There has been no enforcement activity to date. Despite this, vendors have introduced equipment aimed at simultaneously monitoring multiple channels and producing enough information to quickly address issues. Smaller operators may just be waiting to see how the landscape develops over the next few months. "I hope that it's true that no violations actually have been found," Bachofen said. "That would be the best case scenario because it would mean that we did our job right."

The wait-and-see attitude appears to exist at several levels. The FCC may be waiting to see if there are enough complaints on the part of viewers to justify enforcement. Assuming complaints will be lodged in sufficient numbers to justify action, the FCC also may want to get a sense of the nature of the complaints before moving forward. Operators, in turn, likely want to see what type of enforcement actions are taken before investing heavily in hardware and software to confront the problem. The final level of the chicken-and-egg game may be content providers, who may be waiting until the end of current contracts to allow loudness requirements to be written into carriage agreements.

The overriding question is if the FCC has made no moves because it has no reason to or if the agency is getting its enforcement ducks in a row and will become more active as time moves on. Dennis Kucera, an MPEG applications engineer for Tektronix, suggested that this will become more clear between the beginning of the summer and the end of the year. The key question is precisely what the FCC will do when an operator is found to be out of compliance. Will it provide a warning or immediately assess penalties? "It's still a gray area," he said.

Things likely will clarify during the next few months. Andrew Sachs, the Vice President of Product Management for Volicon, believes there still are offending systems – particularly on the local insertion front – and that it is likely that the FCC is biding its time. “There are so many moving parts between the update to A/85 and the SCTE takings its first stab at spot check procedures. It’s really very early on in this process and the ground still is moving. If I were the FCC I wouldn’t attempt too much enforcement right now.”

The good news is that the industry's ability to monitor and control loudness of its programming has improved, regardless of what the FCC does. "The whole situation of loud commercials is getting better regardless of oversight and enforcement," Welch said. "In general, it is a much better situation than a year or two ago. Companies are more willing to do something about it because of all the publicity."

What remains to be seen is if the FCC - and, through it, the people that they represent - are satisfied.

Carl Weinschenk is the Senior Editor of Broadband Technology Report.  Contact him at

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