Guess What: The CALM Deadline is Seven Weeks Away

Content Dam Btr En Articles 2012 10 Guess What The Calm Deadline Is Seven Weeks Away Leftcolumn Article Thumbnailimage File

By Carl Weinschenk Senior Editor

The work of a cable operator is split between the less-than-thrilling task of keeping things running on a day-to-day basis and the more exciting jobs of researching and implementing sexy new services. These days, the new services are particularly thrilling: Multiscreen, home automation and WiFi are potentially transformative. They give both engineers and marketing departments a lot to think about.

This excitement makes it all the more important for operators to remember their more mundane responsibilities. One of the underlying topics at last week's Cable-Tec Expo in Orlando is that a deadline that impacts every operator in the country is less than two months away. It's on that day that operators must have their CALM equipment up and operational.

The question is whether the industry is paying enough attention to the CALM Act, which technically is The Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act. On Dec. 13, equipment must be up and running.

To outside observers, CALM compliance has a great similarity to EAS-CAP. Both require very granular operator efforts. Neither generates revenue, and so may not be at the forefront of operator concerns. In addition, in both cases the FCC is fiddling with the details of the rules until the eleventh hour.

On the surface, it seems that CALM has the potential to be quite a headache for at least a couple of reasons. The first is that the onus will be on the operator to prove that they were in compliance when a subscriber files a complaint. For that reason, it is important that they keep a record of the loudness level on all channels for at least 60 days. Vendors are offering gear that provides thumbnails of what was playing on the channel at any point in time along with the relevant metrics.

Another tricky issue about CALM is that it extends to both local and national advertising. An operator must provide data to the FCC even if the complaint is aimed at programming that originates upstream. The provider may not be held liable in cases in which programming simply is passed through, but still will be the point of contact for the FCC.

The general feeling is that operators are not paying as much attention to this as they should as the deadline approaches. Indeed, this is another area that CALM shares with EAS-CAP. It seems that the woods are full of significant deadlines for operators - and ones that if missed could spell trouble for them. The industry finally is mobilizing, according to Kirk George, the director of marketing for IneoQuest. "They are getting more of an understanding of what’s going on," he said last week in Orlando. "They are looking for the right tools."

The good news is that getting up to speed on CALM is not too difficult, once operators get busy. George said the equipment can be deployed in about two weeks. Much of this involves the usual tasks of clearing rack space and accounting for the power the devices will use. Bill Mears, Engineering Manager of the Video Network Monitoring Group at Tektronix, said operators must ensure that the gear they purchase goes back the requisite 60 days, provides visual thumbnails of what was playing at any moment in time and raises yellow flags when a CALM violation occurs. "They need to learn what they need to do to be compliant," Mears said.

Making sure that commercials are not too loud isn't as exciting as sending programming to mobile devices. It also doesn't generate revenue. It also differs from EAS-CAP in that it doesn’t do anything to improve public safety, a reason that many operators can smile through the frustrations of putting the public safety gear in place. But the bottom line is that operators must satisfy CALM requirements whether they like it or not.

Carl Weinschenk is the Senior Editor of Broadband Technology Report. Contact him at carl@broadbandtechreport.com.

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