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The Globe and Mail

Bill aims to dial down the volume on noisy commercials

Nina Grewal, Conservative candidate for Fleetwood-Port Kells near her office in Surrey, B.C, December 16, 2005.

Lyle Stafford/The Globe and Mail/Lyle Stafford/The Globe and Mail

For fans of the Technicolor forensics of the CSI franchise, explosions – on the street, on a farm, even at a funeral – are so common that they don't come as much of a surprise. But what may startle viewers is the explosive noise of commercial breaks.

It's an issue that plagues TV watchers no matter what show they favour: the jolt that comes with a blaring ad far louder than the program they've been watching. And Canada has fallen behind. The U.S. and the U.K. both have regulations limiting how loud TV ads may be. Last week, a B.C.-based member of Parliament proposed a law to turn down the volume here as well.

Nina Grewal, a Conservative MP introduced a private member's bill on Thursday that would require broadcasters to ensure the ads they air match the decibels of the shows they accompany.

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"It's all the time. You're watching a nice, relaxing program and all of a sudden the volume goes up," Ms. Grewal said. "… It's like, your eardrums are almost torn out. This thing should have been done about 50 years ago."

The federal broadcast regulator received 304 complaints about noisy commercials from Canadians last year, more than double the number it received in 2009.

Asked whether they were taking any steps to fix the problem, CTV declined to comment. Representatives from Global were unavailable.

The bill, which will be debated in Parliament in early March, would seek to amend the Broadcast Act that governs the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission – requiring the regulator to police the broadcasters to prevent a disparity between television shows and much louder ads.

A similar law was passed in the United States in December (in an acrobatic bit of acronym creation, it was named the CALM Act, or Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act) requiring the Federal Communications Commission to keep broadcasters in line. In the United Kingdom, the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice introduced stricter rules in 2008, specifying in the Advertising Code that "advertisements must not be excessively noisy or strident."

The U.S. law was based on recommendations established in 2009 by an international group that works to develop TV standards, the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC).

"We have been studying the new ATSC standard and examining options as we are speaking," said CRTC spokesman Denis Carmel. If the regulator decides to implement its own regulations, a change to the law may not be needed.

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The CRTC has set up a page on its website explaining why sound levels sometimes differ sharply between a program and the ads.

For now, however, the regulator simply recommends that viewers should report problems to their cable or satellite provider.

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