Toward a recommendation of broadcast loudness normalization

On May 19th 2005, when the ITU BS-1770 loudness measurement standard was still under development, Eelco Grimm organized the ‘Loudness Symposium” in The Netherlands. A few hundred people from all corners of the broadcast world, including sound engineers, equipment manufacturers, movie directors, station managers and advertisers enjoyed a full day of presentations, demonstrations and panel discussions. The main questions were: “do we have a loudness problem in television broadcasting?” and “if so, is there consensus about the solution direction?”.

The outcome was clear: everybody agreed that there was a big problem. The audience suffered greatly from loudness jumps and the technical stopgap that was in use (dynamics processors) had big consequences on the artistic freedom of the content makers. 

Eelco Grimm started a research project together with two of the main presenters of the symposium, Richard van Everdingen and Michel Schöpping. Their report, that included a suggestion for a solution by means of loudness normalization using the ITU BS1770 standard, was published at the IBC 2008 Conference. It gave the starting shot for the EBU PLOUD committee who published the R128 recommendation for broadcast loudness two years later in 2010. 

In April 2010 the IBC publication saw a reprint in the SMPTE Journal, which you can read here. The introduction is as follows:

Complaints about loudness variations between program items are a well-known issue in television broadcasting worldwide. The cause is found in the replacement of skilled operators by automated broadcast systems. To facilitate automated leveling of program items, the International Telecommunications Union Recommendations Section (ITU-R) has published recommendation BS-1770, introducing the LKFS loudness measurement. The broadcaster’s goal is uniform dynamics; thus a standardized loudness level needs to be accompanied by a standardized peak level. Most stations in Europe use the European Broadcasting Union (EBU’s) PPM standard of -9 dBFS, and any new standard should be compatible with this. The analog PPM falls short in indicating fast (digital) peaks. These do, however, add to the perceived dynamic range, or rather the loudness-to-peak ratio (LPR). An additional digital peak standard is therefore needed before an LKFS level can be selected. Our research into the level practice of 50 international television stations suggests setting maximum digital sample peak levels to -5 dBFS and nominal loudness levels to -21 LKFS.

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