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Logging Loudness Around the World

From occasionally shaky beginnings, the monitoring and control of loudness in television, and now radio, is starting to make itself felt in international broadcasting. Kevin Hilton rounds up the present situation.

TECHNICAL standards can take some time to come into force and often rely on the will of regulators or even governments, as well as the users, to implement them. Some countries are more enthusiastic adopters than others, while a few might take advantage of options in the specifications to delay full deployment. The introduction of loudness controls has certainly been staggered around the world, with a global recommendation by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), introduced as BS 1770 in 2006, adapted into more localised standards in different countries and regions. Europe is covered by R128,

developed by the EBU (European Broadcasting Union). While other states in Europe – notably France and Germany – set a date and introduced regulations for all broadcasters from that point (2011 and 2012 respectively), others have taken more time to work out exactly what needs to be done. The UK is one country

where the approach has been more gradual. Not that the subject of loudness has not been taken seriously; BBC R&D was looking into monitoring and controlling discrepancies in perceived volume between different types

28 April 2014

of TV broadcast programming as far back as the 1950s; and in the late 1990s and early 2000s algorithms were developed for the first meters aimed at dealing with the problem. In 2008 the Broadcast

Committee on Advertising Practice (BCAP), part of commercials regulator the Advertising Standards Authority, introduced recommendations for loudness on television advertisements. While the preferred approach was for facilities to use loudness meters working to 1770, there was also the option for material mixed on peak meters to PPM6. More recently the Digital

Production Partnership (DPP) drew up specifications for programme delivery to the main UK broadcasters, including the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky, and BT Sport. R128 was the choice for loudness from the start and while some broadcasters, notably Sky and BT Sport, are using it now, R128 is not yet mandatory. The aim is for that to happen in October this year when broadcasters move fully to file-based operations, or, in the case of the BBC, begin the transition. “R128 has made a

difference but we’re not expecting it all to happen immediately, people need time to move across,” said Kevin

Burrows, chair of the DPP technical standards committee and controller of technical broadcast and distribution at C4, following the publication of version 4 of the specs last September. “Part of the problem is that we’re working with new commissions, which conform to R128, and old or archive programmes, which don’t. The problem will reduce over time and R128 will minimise it but there will always be an issue with not knowing what commercial might follow a drama with a wide dynamic range.”

GETTING THE MESSAGE ACROSS The number of complaints about loudness problems to UK broadcast regulator Ofcom is reported to have fallen considerably, even though not all broadcasters are working to R128. The situation with commercials, once the main cause of anguish for viewers, appears to have changed considerably to the slightly ironic point where some ads have been quieter than the programmes. There is still some progress to be made in this sector, though. Owen Griffiths, chief engineer at the Jungle group of post-production facilities, who says loudness has been a subject close to his heart since about 2006, acknowledges that

UK post houses producing commercials are still mixing to PPM6. “Video post facilities require that because it’s what the companies distributing the commercials want,” he explains.

Despite this Jungle is equipped with loudness meters; the primary units are from Nugen, while other devices, such as Chromatec and DK, are available to meet specific requests from broadcasters. “At the moment, because there is a fairly non- standard approach to dealing with loudness for commercials, people have taken their own route so they don’t get reported by Ofcom.”

There is hope that the

BCAP regulations will be updated to either come into line with the DPP/R128 regulations or be changed completely to R128. In answer to questions from Audio Media, BCAP’s policy department stated: “Advertising Code 4.7 (Harm and Offence) of the Broadcast Code still applies in relation to noise levels on TV. We’re aware of, and welcome, the DPP’s work in this area and we’re having discussions with them, which might result in the changes to the Code.” R128 itself is due for an

update, which will include the incorporation of further loudness and peak parameters

Florian Camerer, chairman, P/LOUD group

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