ABC report on audio description finally released

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Tuesday, 29 October 2013 09:55am

After being delivered to the then Department of Communications, Broadband and the Digital Economy at the end of 2012, the report from the ABC on the audio description trial has finally been released to the public.

The report gives the ABC’s feedback on the technical aspects of delivering audio description (AD) in Australia’s broadcast environment. A number of key findings emerged from the report which will impact on delivery of a service in the future.

In the trial, the ABC opted for a manual system to deliver the audio description, rather than trying to incorporate the service into its automated play out systems.  This was partially due to the short trial length of only 13 weeks and noted that it did not install a long-term system. The report also cited the stronger likelihood of there being errors and problems stemming from the more complex automated systems.

There were a number of problems with different set-top boxes and televisions and how they worked with audio description.  In many cases the receivers had been set to play AD and it was a case of then talking through the steps to turn it off to fix the problem.  In a smaller number of cases viewers were unable to turn the AD off. Various solutions were suggested for this and could be properly explored as part of a permanent service.

There were some issues about a limited choice of programming and relatively long lead times to provide AD.  Again, these are not major and could be solved as part of a permanent service.

The ABC suggested that it would need a lead time for a full service to be fully implemented of up to 18 months. 

Media Access Australia CEO Alex Varley said, “Whilst 18 months might seem like a long time, my understanding of that timeframe is to ensure the delivery of a fully-functioning service across all of Australia. There is always the option of rolling out a service sooner and accepting that there will be teething problems and they can be fixed as it goes along.”

Feedback from blind and vision impaired viewers showed that there was a strong level of support for the service, with thousands of viewers petitioning the ABC and Government to continue the service at the conclusion of the trial.

“Overall the report provides a good insight into the sorts of issues that broadcasters face when implementing new services across a complex technical system.  These issues need to be factored in and considered in the process of putting together a permanent service,” said Varley. 

Media Access Australia will provide more detailed analysis about different aspects of the report over the coming weeks. We are part of a coalition of organisations working towards a permanent audio description service on Australian television.

Download the report and Media Access Australia’s background paper from the Department of Communications website.

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