General Question

playthebanjo's avatar

How do they make television commercials louder than the programs?

Asked by playthebanjo (2944points) June 5th, 2008

Does anyone know how this is done?

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

10 Answers

PupnTaco's avatar

Don’t know, but I assume it’s intentional. And very annoying.

wildflower's avatar

I don’t know the specifics, but I’m sure it’s like any recording, where you can adjust the volume of that file/recording so it’s higher/lower than the generic volume (a bit like what you can do with individual songs in iTunes)

richardhenry's avatar

sndfreQ will know!

sndfreQ's avatar

The intentional volume adjustments you hear with commercials are adjustments to the continuous overall volume or what is technically called the Dynamic Range of an audio mix. Advertisers intentionally narrow this range in the audio mix such that the loud signals are as loud as they can go, while the soft sounds stay medium-loud instead of going down to their normal “low” volume range.

An electronic processor called a Compressor does this to the signal, and is usually applied to the sound mix before the “Master” tape is finished. The master that is distributed to all of the broadcast stations already has this compression built in to the commercial, so it’s not the stations that do this, it’s the companies who are paying for the time slot to post their advertisement.

I was told awhile back that the main reason this is done is because most viewers will get up from their seat during a commercial and go to the bathroom, kitchen, or other part of the house. The louder commercial will have a farther physical “reach” if the audio mix is highly compressed. So the advertisers want you to hear their ad even if you get up and walk away!

Incidentally this is a convention that has been applied generally to commercial ads in all media, as you can also pick this up in radio, movie trailers, and even home video DVDs. In the case of radio, the compressed mix can still be heard in the event that the listener turns down the volume. Most advertisers are betting that most listeners turn it down versus changing the channel (easier to do than timing a channel change so that you don’t miss your program).

Normal television programs (and movies) don’t follow this rule, and take advantage of the entire “range” of volume for maximum effect; their audio mixes don’t follow as “tight” a compression ratio as commercial ads do; next time you step into a movie theatre, take notice of the perception of the movie trailers’ “loudness” versus the movie you paid to see.

PupnTaco's avatar

This is why I start watching shows 15 minutes late and fast-forward through the commercials.

playthebanjo's avatar

Great answer sndfreQ. Thanks!

autumnofage's avatar

It’s the most annoying thing ever! My parents are getting older and more deaf so they listen to the shows with the volume up especially ones like Law and Order which are more quiet and then the commercials come on and It’s awful. I’m pretty sure I’m now going deaf from it happening!

robmandu's avatar

[ Warning: possible thread hijack ]

@sndfreQ, you know how movies on DVD have the full-range of dynamic sound in that when someone whispers, it’s really whisper quiet, and when something blows up, it’s really loud?

But, when a movie is shown on broadcast television, it seems that the broadcasters equalize the volume out, making the whispers louder and the explosions quieter… to smooth out the volume overall.

Well, I don’t have a home theater. I don’t have an 8.1 surround sound 5,000 watt system. I just watch DVDs and listen to the sound via my TVs dinky internal speakers. So it drives me crazy that I feel like I’m jacking with the volume all the time, especially for movies where people are whispering right before something blows up, and then start whispering again.

Do you have any consumer-grade suggestions whereby I can equalize the volume, similar to how I perceive broadcasters do it?

I think this concept could also help with reducing the volume of commercials.

sndfreQ's avatar

Fact of the matter is on the receiving end, compressors, limiters, and expanders aren’t really used, as many manufacturers of home theatre technology see this as antithetical to the “expanded dynamic range” of digital theatre systems. If they do, they have some sort of digital dynamics processor in the form of an audio preset, that’s usually labeled “Digital Dynamics” or “Midnight mode”.

However, there are some receiver manufacturers that implement dynamics control via digital processing (pre-digital to analog conversion) to narrow the range only when commercials come on; Dolby is now offering a similar digital dynamics processing component to manufacturers called Dolby Volume.

Although not a new concept, it should be in many receiver systems by now (the article is over a year and a half old).

thebeadholder's avatar

Darn those people with TIVO or DVR!

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