I am continually astounded by what seems to be a very common practice among content providers, be they broadcast television, cable, radio, or internet video and music services. The practice is to play the main content (show, news clip, video, or song) at one volume, and advertisements at another. Usually the volume of commercials are louder than the show, sometimes uncomfortably so.

To put this in context, I listen to a lot of content while at work, in the car, doing homework, exercising, or just spending an evening with my wife. I often find that I have to turn the sound up on the computer, radio or television to hear the show, particularly during any quiet parts, on phone interviews, etc. Then the commercials come and I’m forced to quickly reduce the volume or risk hearing loss.

So, why do they do this? Do they think through the consequences of this practice? Now, I suppose the various channels, stations, and web sites don’t actually control the volume of the advertisements, and possibly of the shows either, but it seems to me they should. I for one am 100x more likely to change the channel, mute the volume or otherwise make that advertisement go away if the volume needed to hear the show makes the commercial uncomfortably loud, or even if it’s just much louder but still in my comfort zone. This compared to commercials that use reasonable volume where I am likely to listen at least passively while waiting for my show to come back or my video to start.

Add to this the fact that some internet music and video services now disable volume and playback control while commercials are playing, and you get one (or possibly millions) of disgruntled viewers/listeners. I don’t quite see the purpose behind blocking pause or mute for an advertisement. If they can’t get to the desired content without viewing the ad, let them pause. If they think the ad is too loud, let them change the volume.

In fact web sites have the unique position of being able to take feedback on this sort of thing. Hulu provides the option to give an ad “thumbs up” or “thumbs down”. I routinely give a thumbs down for the exact reason of being too loud. More feedback however could be gathered. For example sites could monitor when users mute or change volume on specific commercials. Aggregating results from hundreds or thousands of users they could automatically adjust the volume of the commercial to be less offensive to ears that are straining just to hear the show.

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