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The Real Reason Hulu Commercials Are So Loud

You're watching your favorite show on Hulu. Just as the plot reaches critical crisis, the scene cuts abruptly to commercial. Emotionally wrenching? Yes. And it only gets worse when you realize the ad is booming at an uncomfortable volume, filling the room and assaulting your ears. Even leaving to get a snack won't save you.

You desperately reach for the remote control and dial it down. There, that's better. You can barely hear the ads now that you're in the kitchen. But wait. Is that your show back on — and way too quiet now? You're missing it, and those advertisers are to blame! Why are their commercials so loud? There ought to be a law against it!

Turns out, there is. The Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act was passed to prevent advertisers from cranking up the volume on their TV commercials. Under the law, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) established a rule: When a commercial comes on a certain channel, its volume has to match the average volume of that channel. This means it can't be way louder than the show you're watching.

Yet somehow, blisteringly loud ads persist on Hulu, shouting and screaming for our attention while we're just trying to enjoy our shows. How have advertisers managed to perpetuate such an annoying trick? You might be surprised to learn what's going on behind the scenes.

Edgy content comes at a price

The CALM Act sounds soothing, doesn't it? And it ought to take care of the problem once and for all, leaving you free to sink into the alternate reality TV shows offer, without having to clutch the remote and brace yourself at every ad break. But things haven't worked out that way. Consider this: The CALM Act went into effect in 2012. That's almost a decade ago. Yet the problem persists, partly because advertisers found two loopholes. 

One way they get around the law is by managing the overall volume of a single commercial. Sure, parts of the ad may be unbearably loud. But other scenes could be soft and quiet. That way, they can still screech and yell for your attention, without triggering a ding from the FCC. Advertisers also lure viewers in with commercials that start off at an acceptable volume. Once the theater of obedience to the law is over, the volume vaults up to an offensively high level.

But there's a bigger problem here. The FCC doesn't regulate every form of entertainment you can find on TV. Hulu and other online providers are free to operate as they please. While that means you can often find edgier content on a streaming service, you'll also have to deal with loud ads and control their volume on your own.