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.”
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