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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Stay Calm, Take Your Drugs, and Do Parodies Right

Let’s pass a law to regulate physics.  Oh wait, we already did.  I wrote about it in 2012, the passage of The CALM ACT. If you want to call it by its full name, that’d be Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act.  This was Congress’ response to complaints to them and to the FCC about commercials being “too loud.”  You can read the act and my earlier blog for more but the bottom line is that this is another great example of congress pandering to its constituents rather than explaining to them how sound “works,” how ears “work,” and that some things can’t be mitigated

Well, it’s 5 years later and, guess what?  It isn’t working.  Millions of dollars of equipment was installed to manage sound levels of commercials while TV viewers thought that engineers were purposely “cranking up the gain” on the sound during commercial breaks.  Note that it doesn’t address sound levels in programming.

When I say it isn’t working, I mean that you can still hear plenty of excessive loudness in commercials – yes, even with everything in place.  So, what’s the deal?  Well, the first is the finger pointing.  With about 18 percent of Americans watching television over the air, it’s hard to deal with the other 82 percent who view via cable, satellite or other delivery systems.  Stations blame networks and cable carriers. Networks blame stations and cable and all the rest of the permutations that go along with it.

I have confirmation from two cable systems and one satellite service that they have all of the equipment in place.  Also have confirmation from 2 Chicago stations.  But the deal is that you are deemed compliant if you have the equipment installed.  That’s it.  Can a station get fined if they ignore the rule?  Only if they don’t have the gear.  If they do, it may be misadjusted.  And who’s to say what’s “louder?”

The whole thing ties back to “dialnorm” which originated in the Dolby laboratories.  It evolved to ATSC A/85 here.  Europe’s involvement got it to the ITU as BS.1770.  If you’re having trouble sleeping, check out the latest version here.  The craziness in all of this is that if you complain, the commission will send a letter to the station.  The station can then reply with, “Our equipment is in place and operating.  We adhere to algorithm (insert your favorite here) and that algorithm was in use while processing the signal at that time.  Our operator deemed that the audio from Dan’s Used Cars and Aquarium Supplies was within the prescribed limits.  That’s it.  They’re right; you’re wrong.

Now what brought all that up was a series of spots I heard more than once.  I think you’re familiar with the practice now – buying spots that bookend a break (first and last commercial in a pod).  One, for a soft drink is particularly annoying in the first place but it’s clearly in violation of the CALM act, at least psychoacoustically.  And they bought positions 1 and 6 (may be 1 and 8 or 9 in some breaks) just to bug me.  You say, “Buck up.”  Yeah, you’re right.  But again, the point is, you can legislate against the laws of physics but they don’t have to follow your legislation.

On to topic two.  Europe may have gotten something right with their rules for advertising pharmaceuticals over the air.  By and large, it is severely limited.  The thinking is that doctors should know what is good for you.  You, however, can’t process all of the information necessary to choose a particular drug or treatment.

Our FDA decided in 1997 that people should know about what’s out there.  OK, I get that.  But many drugs have scores of side effects that have to be managed.  Yet, big pharma can get folks really revved up about results that might be attained when using an advertised drug.

The latest I saw pictured a man, woman and child riding bikes down a lane then through a covered bridge and to a picnic gathering in a field.  The audio went something like,

Anncr: (VO) Troubled by fast-growing nose hair?  Yamusbenuts finally brings relief.  Bill and Janie both suffer from it but are now leading almost normal lives with one daily dose of Yamusbenuts. 

Anncr Voice 2 Interrupts (VO) Yamusbenuts has had limited human tests.  There is no certainty that your case of nose hair will respond to Yamusbenuts.  Yamusbenuts has been found to cause loss of hearing, sight or taste.  Some test subjects have lost sense of touch.  Some have died for over 3 months.  Hangnails and difficult breathing are common.  Do not eat bread or calamari or breaded calamari while taking Yamusbenuts.  If you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, ask your doctor before taking Yamusbenuts as your unborn child may be born with extended nose hair.  Your neighbor may develop poor driving habits from your use of Yamusbenuts.  Do not pet sheep or goats.  Always take Yamusbenuts on a full stomach.  

And, of course, as the music swells, mom, dad and child are handed food-filled paper plates.  They smile, nose hair-free while a super pops on, "See our Ad in Barbershop Monthly"

Seriously guys.  10 second description and 50 to 110 seconds of disclaimers?  Cut it out.

And that brings me to the last item on today’s agenda:  Parody music.  Let me say it succinctly, if you don’t know how to do it, don’t do it.  You look like idiots. That includes writing lyrics that don’t fit the rhythm of the original song exactly.  Can’t do that?  Get a different song (or get a different job).  Addition of notes or changes in the melody?  If you have to do that, it's, again, the wrong song.  Either pay the rights fee, find something that’s public domain, or do something that’s far enough away that it hints at the original without trying to imitate it.  And on a related item, the phone “rhythm” is the US is XXX-XXX-XXXX.  It’s not XX-XXXX-XXXX.  It’s not XXXX-XX-XXX-X.  Just sayin’.  But Kevin James says it better.