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Louis Thibault manages the team whose efforts are being recognized with a tech Emmy. (DAVE CHAN FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL/DAVE CHAN FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Louis Thibault manages the team whose efforts are being recognized with a tech Emmy. (DAVE CHAN FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL/DAVE CHAN FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Canadians scoop tech Emmy for dialling down loud TV ads Add to ...

It lacks the star power and glitz of its sister event, but for the Canadians who will be given a Technology & Engineering Emmy Award, this ceremony is just as important.

On Thursday, amid the pandemonium of the year’s biggest technology trade show in Las Vegas, the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences will celebrate those in the industry who have contributed to the way television is delivered to viewers’ homes.

The Communications Research Centre (CRC), an arm of Industry Canada, is among a group being honoured for developing a system for measuring loudness in TV ads – a key device for governments who are now requiring the industry to control that loudness.

It’s an issue that has preoccupied TV viewers for years, both in Canada and abroad, but until recently, there was no international standard to measure just how loud those ads were. And that made it difficult to tackle the problem.

Now that standard exists. The CRC, along with others such as Dolby Laboratories Inc., and the International Telecommunications Union, will be given an Emmy for devising that standard. The Canadian contribution is a loudness meter that mimics the way the human ear perceives noise. Plain old decibel measuring won’t do the trick: because the ear is extremely sensitive at some frequencies and not at all sensitive at others, a tool was needed to judge the perception of loudness.

“This problem has been around ever since television came to life,” said Louis Thibault, manager of the Advanced Audio Group at the CRC, who is in Las Vegas to accept the award on behalf of his team.

And with digital television, the problem has gotten worse: unlike analog TV, digital signals embed audio with the video, meaning that if broadcasters use programs from other countries around the world with different loudness standards, they can blast some viewers out of their seats with the noise – or be too quiet, and cause a shock when contrasted with the volume of local ads.

The Canadians used their meter to develop software that measures loudness. That contribution helped the group win the Emmy for devising a broadcast standard that was adopted in 2009 by the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC).

And it’s having an impact on the industry: In September, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission put pressure on TV networks to control the loudness of the commercials they air by the time the fall TV season starts next year. Similar requirements have been put in place in the U.S. and Britain in recent years.

“Without a way to measure loudness, there’s no way to control it,” said a senior engineer with the CRTC. “We couldn’t really address the problem without these standards.”

The loudness meter was tested in a “listening room” in Ottawa, where researchers asked subjects to listen to audio clips and match how loud one clip was compared with another. That gave them their basis for what the ear perceives. The meter was then tested against the subjects’ loudness ratings, producing an almost perfect correlation.

“Not often do we have Canadian organizations receive and Emmy award,” Mr. Thibault said. “We’re quite proud of that.”

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