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Television and Media Culture: Painful Advertising, or How Cable TV Broke My Eardrums

Updated on November 23, 2010

Commercials should stop yelling

The recession has given American a lot more time to watch television.  I have been  no different, I am sad to say. But I have noticed that some things have changed since I last spent time in front of the tube. Disturbing changes that have the power to damage your hearing if you aren't careful, or more realistically, annoy the heck out of you.  Maybe it's desperation, maybe it's craft, maybe it's the necessary consequence of advertising, but the relationship between our programs and our commercials have changed.  This has even entered into the courts, and is all over the internet.  I dare you to google "Comcast commercials too loud".

Now, we're Americans, so if we're doing nothing more than sitting on the couch watching TV, then yes sir, we're hungry. And the best time to get food from the kitchen is during the commercial break. We've known this since childhood.  However, all is not well in TV Land. The commercials, knowing they were meaningless to us, have decided to respond. What is their response? To yell.  A lot. Just like an angry spouse, they raise their voices so we can hear them when we go into the other room.  Anyone know what I am talking about? I am serious, commercials are sometimes twice as loud as the programs on television. I have Comcast, so I know this happens on cable. I used to work at a bar that had Dish Network, so I know it happens on satellite, too. So it is obviously the broadcasting stations themselves doing it. They are purposely raising the volume of the commercials.  I know why they are doing it, there is a graph somewhere that shows how to maximize profits, and louder = better in terms of attracting the consumer's dollar.  But still, my ears doth protest too much.

To take the other side, another explanation would be the misuse or, more appropriately, unsupervised and deregulated use of audio compression. (See my forthcoming HUB on Audio Compression and the music industry for more information.) Let me boil it down briefly. When you hear two songs side by side, the one that is louder always makes a bigger impact. To the untrained ear, i.e. the consumer, louder = better (until it's too late and the sound is so squashed it is literally painful). This means that in 1991, you only had a smidge more compression than usual, and then boost the overall signal a bit to compensate and presto, a "hotter" sound. Basically, for a variety of reasons, as time went on, the amount of "smidge" you had to compress increased and compounded all in the name of sounding "hotter". This explanation, though it is certainly true, cannot be the sole reason that commercials are so loud, in other words, I don't believe the audio engineers are in charge of this. I do believe carelessness and deregulated use of audio compression is a major issue facing the music industry and that it has led to a culture where things like this are acceptable, but it is not the reason for it.

Which brings me back to my original point: the networks are intentionally raising the volume on commercials in an effort to maximize profits. At first, this might not seem like such a big deal. You might be tempted to ask, "Why wouldn't they?" Let me share a story. I can be, and have been, out in Portland, at a bar, watching the Portland Trail Blazers and enjoying conversation with other fans at the bar when the experience is ruined by a guy who needs a shave singing a jingle about how he is glad he finally knows, without a doubt, he has bad credit. He is so loud that people's facial expressions change from pleasant to unpleasant. You can look around the room, the mood is killed and there is a poorly written jingle about free credit scores causing peaks in the cheap speaker system at the small neighborhood bar I enjoy frequenting.

I ask myself, why do we tolerate this? No person would be allowed to do this, we're all paying to be there, this is our relaxation time. The more this happens and I can literally watch the faces of people change from pleasant to angry, the more I'm amazed at how we just shrug this off every 10 or so minutes during the game we've been looking forward to. This is beyond borderline invasive. We're allowing cable to do to us things we'd not let another human being, and whether or not you recognize it, it says something significant about us: we accept our relegated roles as consumers and would prefer not to interrupt the status quo than have an actual afternoon of peace with friends at a pub.

These Guys Really Want To Talk To Me

This guy is the sole reason I refuse to buy plane tickets.  (source:
This guy is the sole reason I refuse to buy plane tickets. (source:
Anyone actually got one of these? Do they work? (source:
Anyone actually got one of these? Do they work? (source:

I have had to learn where the mute button is on every remote control I use at home, long before I have to learn how to change channels. That's significant, we have to learn how to shut the thing up (TV) before we can even learn how to do what we want with it. These days I am a perpetual muter. I have already learned the hardway that the one time I don't, I will get an angry, photo-dislodging knock on the wall from the next door apartment because my commercials are too loud. Again, the knocks don't come during the program. So, when I think about it, I'm not only allowing television advertisements to treat me this way, I'm allowing them to do it to the people around me. Again, a liberty we do not afford another human.

We need to be humans more and consumers less. The incessantly loud pesterings (commercials) between the thing we do for relaxation (watch TV or Sports) should not have the right to treat us the way it does. It was just a few nights ago while watching sitcoms on cable, there was a local commercial for a used car lot that was so loud I gave up on watching television all together for the evening. I couldn't stand hearing him yell at me and not being able to say anything back, so I decided to write this hub.

I know I jest about it literally causing pain, but if a commercial is so much louder than a basketball game that the neighbors can hear it, something has gone wrong. A perpetual mute doesn't work because, believe it or not, sometimes I want to hear that a preview for a new film, or an important news bulletin is on the air so I can pay attention. Some advertisements are good, it's just the abusive ones I hate. I don't want to have to abandon my right to relax by enjoying a comedy show I enjoy in order to be treated like a human being, but I'm starting to worry I might not have a choice.

For now, it appears that legal actions have been fairly successful, but when I turn on certain stations, I just wince and try not to feel reduced to the sum total of the money I can be squeezed for. If I wanted someone to yell at me for my money, I could go somewhere other than my living room or the local pub for that! Here's keeping the faith for a quieter tomorrow in advertising.


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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! So funny! I cannot really advice you on what to do coz, I do not even live in America, but truly speaking this is very funny and maybe you guys should start a rally, if not, I fore-see the Otolaryngologists smiling...

    • Three-Legged Dog profile image

      Three-Legged Dog 

      9 years ago from USA

      You know what bothers me more than commercials on TV? Commercials on the radio. And incessant talking on the radio. (Except for ESPN.) I want to listen to music, not "Have you been in a car accident recently? You may be injured and not even know it. Call 1-800-Ask-Gary, a medical and lawyer referral service," twelve times in a row.

    • sharrie69 profile image


      9 years ago from Trinidad (an island in the Caribbean)

      I HATE that Oxyclean guy and his loud voice with a passion!! I have noticed that childrens' cartoons have also become similarly loud and annoying. Isn't it any wonder that they say kids these days have no behaviour?? Start them off young sitting in front of a TV that teaches them to yell and be obnoxious to get attention..that's the way you do it. If it weren't for my other half there would be no TV in my house - just well mannered books!

    • Anna Marie Bowman profile image

      Anna Marie Bowman 

      9 years ago from Florida

      I have noticed this, as well. I will be watching a show, have to turn the volume up, just so I can hear what the people are saying, and then, eardrum rupturing shouting and music come blaring through the tv at me. I have found a great solution to this!! DVR!!! I hardly ever watch commercials anymore. I can pause the tv, walk away, get myself some food, whatever, and come back and fast forward through all the commericals. I know Comcast has them. You can rent one from them. Some tvs also have a feature that will allow you to deminish this drastic change in volume. I don't know what it's called. I am not very tech savy. Check your audio functions on your tv.

      I do not have a sham-Wow, and I would assume, that if they are like every other product similar to that, it should work fairly well, but not for 10 years, like they claim.


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