No more loud ads

New regulations mean we may have seen the end to shouty ads says Marcus Casey but what does the introduction of OP 59, the new rule governing commercial volume, mean for the production sector, advertisers and advertising delivery services?

It has long been one of the biggest bugbears for both TV viewers and networks – the loudness of television commercials. 

Over the years there have been countless complaints forcing networks to explain that shouty ads are not actually their fault, that there is no centralised volume control, placing the blame firmly with the advertisers and those making the ads.

Volume levels of commercials are determined during the production process as a result of audio compression which effectively prevents networks from having any control during the broadcast process.

Harvey Norman, Joyce Mayne, McDonald’s, Lowes and Coles have been among the biggest offenders when it comes to a sudden burst of sound during an ad break.

But a new Free TV Australia regulation – which came into effect on January 1 but will be enforced in a fortnight’s time – is poised to eliminate the issue, with all ads broadcast after that date required to be the same maximum volume as the shows they air during.

The new Operational Practices 59 rule stipulates networks will have to reject an advertisement if it exceeds the algorithm limit, known in the production industry as ‘minus 24’.

Regulations were first put in place in the early 2000s under OP 48, but the ruling had loopholes which the new OP 59 guidelines tighten.

Free TV Australia chief Julie Flynn says: “We announced in 2010 that we would be moving to the new standards and over the last couple of years there have been regular industry briefings including at the Australian Broadcasting Exhibition in 2012.

“We are confident that this new tool will be of great assistance to the industry and viewers in ensuring consistency in loudness of commercials on Australian television.”

The advent of digital television has allowed an accurate measurement of sound, which modulates during a program. The ads will now have to match that variation and not exceed it.

The rules signal a game change in the TV industry and a new arm in advertising production has emerged to ensure a level of quality control is part of the production process.

Production houses are having to adjust their methods, while advertising distribution companies such as eBus, Adstream and Dubsat have put measures in place to ensure networks are delivering ‘clean’ advertisements.

There is some scope for the networks themselves to make ads compliant but ultimately the responsibility falls to the production process.

“Free TV has made a decision to regulate loudness and written up a new framework. People making ads have to comply with the new rules,’’ says Adstream’s CEO Peter Miller, whose company delivers and digitally stores 75 per cent of the ads currently seen on Australian TV.

“We get the material and it’s no big deal – we test it. We want to tell Ten, Seven, Nine and Foxtel that the ad is fine, but if we find it is breaching the code we will tell our clients they have to fix it.

“They can start again, or we can help them out and we have facilities here that can help that process.

“There has been a little bit of heat if we put up a barrier. Agencies have to go back to their clients and ask for more dough, but that’s TV and that’s what has to be done. And we’re only talking hundreds of dollars, not thousands, to fix an ad.”

A spokesman for eBus said: “With OP 59 there is no way to make an ad seem louder by over-compressing the audio, a trick used by producers.”

“Stations will have to fix the ads if they’re too loud or send them back to the client,” says Adam Campbell of Dubsat. “They will now have to be made correctly.”

Says Adstream’s Miller: “The risk is an ad being rejected by a network, and that is not good. But an ad missing air time, that’s even worse. Our aim is to make sure customers don’t have to deal with that experience.”

Michael Ritchie of production company Revolver says the change is a good one, arguing that the anger generated by loud ads dilutes the very thing they are trying to do – engage the viewer. And it forces those producing the ads to try out different approaches.

“The reality is that loud ads annoy the viewer and damage their impression of the brand, so I think it’s a great change,” he says. “From a production point of view, we have to have more creative techniques than just screaming at the audience.”

Sound technician Peter Best is cashing in on the opportunity having just launched a company called SoundDeliveries, which tests TVCs online for OP 59 compliance. “Professional sound studios have been aware of the coming change for some time and have been closely reading the fine print in OP 59,” he says.

As for the advertisers themselves, the Association Of National Advertisers says they simply had to toe the line under the new regulations.

“Advertisers operate under a self-regulatory system of codes and practice notes to both promote their brands and to protect consumers by ensuring that advertising and marketing communications are conducted responsibly,” a spokesman says.

“There are a range of other self and co-regulatory schemes that cover both the messaging and placement of advertising in Australia in all media.

“It’s not in any advertiser’s interests to operate outside these schemes as to do so will only result in a refusal to broadcast commercials by the networks.”

As the deadline of March 31 draws near, companies like Adstream are seeing a last minute scramble by some advertisers to comply.

Adstream’s Miller says: “It has surpassed some advertisers, and it has come to them late, but they’re now having to catch up.”

But Miller, like most in the industry, sees the effort as being worthwhile. He says: “If there are fewer complaints and people are enjoying the television experience with programming and advertising it will be a good thing.”


Encore issue 5

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  1. Viewer
    15 Mar 13
    11:10 am

  2. mmmmm……the biggest problem has always been the loudness of the station promo. Considerably louder than the TV commercials playing before or after them. And some stations are still guilty.

  3. pugwash
    15 Mar 13
    12:49 pm

  4. this is an extremely simple and inexpensive thing to alter for compliance

    Beware companies seeking to cash-in..shouldn’t take more than 30mins-1hr to

    have it sorted…at the most!

  5. Beery
    15 Mar 13
    12:52 pm

  6. Anything that stops consumers getting further pissed off with TVCs isn’t a bad thing. Happier consumers will be more receptive to the message one expects. Now if only we could get rid of the ridiculous disclaimers in micro-print on TVCs and also the 15 secs of disclaimers at end of radio commercials……….

  7. Ian MacRae
    15 Mar 13
    1:25 pm

  8. Hope this applies to the ABC-TV between program promos too.

  9. Abe
    15 Mar 13
    1:25 pm

  10. My company produces 130+ TV commercials every day, so we saw very quickly the effect that this OP59 rollout had. The period over the new year when the standard was introduced cause so much grief to clients! Explaining to them that they could no longer shout louder than the next ad to get noticed caused some to re-think their strategies.

    I wonder if these new guidelines will change the creative on TV – it’s been interesting to see Harvey’s adopt a much softer approach with their jingle and concept, and I wonder if that was partially driven by these new requirements?

    One last thing – I know Adstream and Dubsat offer ‘auto correction’ to material that is not -24LKFS. As I understand it, this is just lowering the overall audio level as once the audio is EQed, compressed and mixed, you can’t ‘undo’ any of that processing. To maintain the best sonic quality, Free TV suggest that compliance be achieved BEFORE the audio goes through it’s final stereo mix – as adjusting EQ and compression of the voiceover and sound effects achieves a better result then simply lowering the overall level of the final mixed track. Even the speed of a voiceover changes the LKFS measurement.

    All TVC audio that leaves our studios is -24LKFS, so it doesn’t have to be touched. I wonder if agencies and production houses who deal with non-compliant audio would be happy that their audio is being adjusted/changed after it leaves their suite? Interesting to know….

  11. Audio Pro
    15 Mar 13
    1:33 pm

  12. As a professional audio post engineer I think it is important to point out a couple of the errors in this article. The first error is that broadcasters have no control over the volume of the material they broadcast. The truth is they do, they just don’t want to employ staff to “mix” the station output. The 2nd error is the assertion that Free TV has run regular industry briefings. There have been a couple of talks at AFTRS that have dealt with the history of the issue but very little about workflow. Industry professionals have all been asking for clear guidlines for months. But the biggest error of them all is the assertion that Adstream & the other delivery companies have to provide QC of commercial material. Here is the fact. At no time has Free TV appointed any company to QC material before delivery. When a delivery company tells you material will be rejected by broadcasters & offers to “fix” it (for a fee), consult a professional audio person. I have heard stories of material being “rejected” by distribution companies for exceeding loudness by 0.2dB. We don’t measure audio in tenths of a decibel & no broadcaster would dare. Having said all that, it seems odd to me that the courier is checking the contents of the parcel before deciding whether or not they will deliver it!

  13. James
    15 Mar 13
    1:37 pm

  14. Does this mean the end to every voice artists most hated written direction – “Hard Sell”?

  15. Paridell
    16 Mar 13
    6:36 pm

  16. “Over the years there have been countless complaints forcing networks to explain that shouty ads are not actually their fault”

    More often they blandly deny that the problem even exists. One of many reasons why I stopped watching TV in the 1980s. I produce some of it, but I can’t bear to consume.

  17. Chris
    17 Mar 13
    9:57 pm

  18. I’m going to miss those screaming ‘EVERYTHING MUST GO’ exhibition center ads. They were always so endearing!

  19. Jonas Lavakas
    18 Mar 13
    9:05 am

  20. As another professional audio engineer I would also add the following facts to the basket –

    OP59 is not legally binding, unlike CALM in the US which has financial penalties for non compliance, it is only a “recommendation” from Free-TV ti it’s member stations to adopt the standard. The ball lies solely in their court for self-regulation.

    Worth remembering at this point that advertisers give a lot of money just for the privilege of airing their ads and may not be impressed with being told how or what they can do in terms of production.

    There’s also the issue of the “off air processing” – of the signal of the respective TV channels – ie bumping the signal up during transmission – which are completely compressed and overdriven anyway – ie no matter how we at the coal face produce our final mix they are then made sound ( much ) louder at the broadcast stage so it’s self defeating. I could name specific channels but won’t.

    Pay TV is also not involved in any of this and are still cranking everything out at the old LOUD level, so the ads and promos don’t sound any softer there.

    I have a theory about this ( and it’s only my theory ) that what’s happening is TVC producers are still making their ads at the old level figuring ” well if it’s fine for Pay TV then it’s fine us and elsewhere if they want to go through the hassle of bumping the levels down let ’em do it, they’ll soon get bored “.