Audio description trial FAQs

The television audio description trial commenced on 5 August 2012 and continued for 13 weeks until 4 November, during which 14 hours of TV was audio described on ABC1 each week.

Here are some answers to questions that Media Access Australia has been asked about the trial. We will update these as more information comes to hand. 

What is audio description?

Audio description is the narration of all the visual elements of a TV program, movie, DVD, performance or other media allowing access for the blind or vision impaired. First developed in the US in the 1908s, it is carefully scripted so that the descriptions fall within gaps in the dialogue. For pre-recorded media such as television programs, when the audio description is played, the background audio is automatically lowered so that the description can be heard clearly.

Is there audio description in other countries?

Audio description is well established on television in the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Germany, Spain, some other European countries, South Korea and, since 2011, New Zealand. Audio description is therefore a service long overdue in Australia.

What were the aims of the ABC audio description trial?

Audio description had never been broadcast on Australian television prior to the trial, so one of its main aims was to see how it could be integrated into the ABC’s broadcast system. One of the contentious issues about audio description within the television industry has been how much extra broadcast spectrum will be needed to transmit the extra audio. The trial should give a definitive answer.

The trial was also used to determine what the audio description production process should be. Creating and recording an audio description track is more involved and labour intensive than creating captions, so the trial looked at which programs were suitable for audio description, and what the expected time frames for delivering it would be. Audio described programs were also imported from the UK for the trial.

What equipment do I need to access audio description?

Audio description is transmitted as a secondary audio track, so you will need a digital receiver that can access that track to hear it. In the lead-up to the trial, the Government engaged Australian Digital Testing to investigate which digital televisions and set-top boxes available in Australia will do this and prepare a report which can be downloaded in PDF or Word formats from the DBCDE website.

Two notable options are the Bush Talking Set Top Box and the Hills Talking Set Top Box. These are digital set-top boxes with talking menus and other features, which also play audio description. They were developed as part of the Household Assistance Scheme run by the Government’s Digital Switchover Taskforce.

What is ‘receiver-mixed’ audio description?

Audio description is transmitted as a secondary audio track, and can be broadcast-mixed or receiver-mixed.With broadcast-mixed, the audio description is mixed with the original soundtrack at the station’s end. With receiver-mixed, the audio description is mixed with the original soundtrack within the viewer’s digital TV or set-top box.

Receiver-mixed audio description has certain advantages over broadcast-mixed. It’s good for broadcasters as it takes up less broadcast spectrum. It’s good for viewers because the volume of the audio description can raised or lowered against the background soundtrack. It is also possible for someone to listen to the audio description through headphones, while others in the room do not hear it.

The audio description for the ABC trial was receiver-mixed.

What programs were audio described during the trial?

An average of two hours of programs were screened between 5pm and midnight each evening during the trial, including both local programs such as Rake and The Slap, and programs where the audio description was sourced from the UK.

Now that the trial is over, what happens next?

The ABC is preparing a report on technical aspects of the trial, which it will deliver to the Federal Government by the end of 2012. This will inform government thinking about the feasibility of introducing a regular audio description service on Australian television.

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Tags: TV & video