GATINEAU, Que. - Canada's broadcasters have a year to turn down the volume on their TV ads.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has ruled that commercials are indeed annoyingly loud, and will give broadcasters until next September to do something about it.
They got help in the verdict from over 7,000 Canadians who responded with an resounding "yes" to the question it posed in February of whether they thought ads were too loud.
"The loud commercials drive me crazy, they hurt my ears and make me want to leave the room," wrote one woman from Uxbridge, Ont.
The number of submissions was unusually numerous for a CRTC notice of comment, and 10 times higher than the complaints it received the previous three years combined.
"Broadcasters have allowed ear-splitting ads to disturb viewers and have left us little choice but to set out clear rules that will put an end to excessively loud ads," the CRTC chairman, Konrad von Finckenstein, said in a release on Tuesday.
"The technology exists, let's use it."
The commission says 2009's international standard for measuring and controlling television signals will apply to minimize fluctuations in loudness between programming and commercials.
Under the standard, broadcasters will have to ensure that both programs and ads are transmitted at the same volume.
In an interview, von Finckenstein said the commission decided to go against a voluntary approach because broadcasters had two years to follow the international standard and have done little.
"They had plenty of time," he said. "They had a working group which worked on this for over a year and then there wasn't anywhere near a solution.
"We finally said: 'We have changed the system over to digital on September 1, lets have also a standard (on loudness).'"
The CRTC said it will publish draft regulations by the end of the year, and will give broadcasters a chance to respond.
"This decision means that viewers will no longer have to reach for their remotes to manually control the volume when regular programming cuts to commercial advertisements," it said.
Other countries are also moving in the same direction. The U.S. has passed a law requiring broadcasters and distributors to comply with the Advanced Television Systems Committee standards by year's end.
Mark Richer, president of the Washington-based group, says most U.S. broadcasters have already adopted the ATSC standard in advance of the legislation taking effect.
There were also indications Canadian broadcasters were aware of the problem.
Rogers has written to the CRTC saying it is trying to address the problem proactively in advance of regulations, as did the CBC.
Broadcasters were not immediately available for reaction to the CRTC announcement.