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Lawmakers propose ban on loud streaming service ads

The Netflix app is displayed alongside other streaming media services on the homepage of a Roku Streaming Stick. (Photo: Matthew Keys / Flickr Creative Commons)

A pair of federal lawmakers have reintroduced a proposal that would prohibit streaming services from increasing the volume of advertisements relative to the volume of a movie or television show.

The proposal, introduced by Representative Anna Eshoo of California and Senator Sheldon White house of Rhode Island, would extend existing federal legislation barring noisy commercials on broadcast and cable television to include streaming services.

The initiative builds on the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act passed by Congress in 2010. The legislation bans local television stations, broadcast networks and cable channels from raising the volume of advertisements beyond the normal level of a program being aired.

Despite the ban, some broadcast and cable channels continue to play noisy ads.  Lawmakers say weak enforcement measures by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have resulted in cable and satellite companies getting away with violating the CALM Act for years, and a loophole that largely exempts online products means the loud ads have started to appear on ad-supported streaming services.

“Consumers are fed up with advertisers blaring TV commercials at disruptively high volumes because of a weak FCC enforcement regime and a loophole for streaming TV,” Whitehouse said in a statement on Thursday. “I’m pleased to partner with Congresswoman Eshoo to strengthen our CALM Act to clamp down on loud ads on streaming platforms and give viewers a break.”

The move to update the CALM Act comes as more consumers ditch cable and satellite products due to rising fees and gravitate toward cheaper, pay-as-you-go streaming services. Unless the ban is extended to those services, streaming television viewers will likely continue to encounter noisy advertising, lawmakers affirmed on Thursday.

“Since the [CALM Act] was enacted, new popular streaming services have recreated the practice of loud ads because the old law doesn’t apply to them, and consumers continue to complain about loud ads on broadcast, cable, and satellite TV,” Eshoo said in a statement. “Today, we’re updating the legislation for the benefit of consumers who are tired of diving for the mute button at every commercial break, regardless of what platform they use.”

If adopted, the proposal introduced this week would require the FCC to extend its rule barring loud advertisements to streaming services within one year. The FCC would be tasked with investigating complaints against streaming services who violate the rule, and would be able to enforce monetary penalties against services that are found to be in non-compliance.

The update primarily targets ad-supported streaming services like Fox Corporation’s Tubi TV, the Walt Disney Company’s Hulu and the ad-supported version of Netflix, which offer free or low-cost access to video on-demand content supplemented by short commercial interruptions. Streaming cable replacements like Dish Network’s Sling TV or Google’s YouTube TV are considered multichannel video providers and are already covered by the CALM Act.

A similar proposal to update the CALM Act was introduced by Eshoo and Whitehouse last year, but failed to gain traction before the end of the Congressional session. This time, the lawmakers have rallied support from a public interest group, Consumer Reports, who expressed concern that the situation involving loud ads on streaming services will get worse without a law in place to prevent them.

“Consumers don’t like loud commercials any more than they did in 2010, when the original CALM Act authored by Congresswoman Eshoo and Senator Whitehouse was signed into law. And they don’t distinguish between high volume commercials aired on traditional television platforms versus the many streaming video services accessed by consumers in 2023,” Jonathan Schwantes, the senior policy counsel at Consumer Reports, said in a statement. “Consumer Reports strongly supports the introduction of the CALM Modernization Act as a necessary update to the statute, and we urge Congress to act on it this year.”

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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