Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy
Audio Description Trial on ABC Television
Report to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy on the Trial of Audio Description on ABC Television
The ABC completed a 13 week Trial of broadcasting television programs with audio description (AD) commentary on ABC1. The Trial commenced on Sunday 5 August and finished on Sunday 4 November 2012.
The key findings from this Trial are as follows:
The delivery of a mono audio description track within the ABC’s digital television spectrum holding is possible. However the approach adopted for the AD trial is unlikely to be practical over the longer term.
An AD track integrated with a television program can be broadcast and received alongside main audio and vision utilising digital audio tracks 3 and 4. Significant testing and configuration amendments are required to ensure the service is delivered and does not significantly impact other services.
The ABC adopted a manual approach to deliver an AD service for a range of reasons. However, a manual approach is not recommended as a best practice approach for the implementation of AD on television services.
A minimum 18 months lead time is required to develop, assess and implement an automated process to provide an AD service.
A comprehensive audio processing capacity within the broadcaster should form the foundation for any AD service to limit the risk of audio problems and provide users the best experience.
The ABC’s internal broadcast systems are not currently configured to provide a permanent AD service. For the ABC to provide a permanent AD service, its internal broadcast systems would require an upgrade so that digital receivers would be able to indicate to viewers when an AD service was available for a program.
Different types of content lend itself to AD more effectively than other types. A prescribed number of daily hours of audio-described content is not recommended where content that is not conducive to be audio described is in the television program schedule.
Television program delivery times make a significant impact on the ability to make an AD script for the program.
In order to deliver a meaningful AD television experience programs in the drama or documentary genre are considered the most suitable.
AD appropriate content can be found throughout the TV schedule and not just in prime time. There would have been more options for AD appropriate content had the Trial not been limited to prime time (5pm to 12midnight).
The audio-description providers, CSI and RedBee Media, were commissioned on a price per broadcast hour for the development, scripting, recording and delivery of an audio-described file to the ABC. There may be another formula for commissioning audio-description content that would deliver better value for money.
When commissioning and acquiring AD content consideration should be given to:
choosing program content based on audience value, availability of program, consistency and Australian-made criteria;
negotiating a pricing model with AD providers, so that the cost of the AD can recognise the volume of actual AD produced for each program; and
confirming ownership and rights of approval as part of contractual arrangements.
The ABC compared two suppliers of AD content during the Trial and found:
The ABC and the two proponents were able to put in place an effective supply chain for delivery of audio described content.
There were only relatively minor differences between the potential AD providers in regard to their cost per hour and “turn-round” time-lines.
Whilst AD suppliers were similar in costs – the price for acquiring existing AD tracks from international broadcasters was much higher than originally anticipated. The ABC will contemplate the inclusion of AD files in its program acquisition process.
There may be some scope for negotiating with AD suppliers to reduce the 10 day turn-round to more accurately reflect the complexity of the AD program.
There are a small number of potential AD suppliers in Australia. Most are likely to require several months lead time to prepare facilities and resources should AD become more widely available. A dialogue with potential vendors around “lead time” requirements should be factored into any AD roll-out.
The Ofcom regulation and original ITC style guidelines appear to provide a valuable basis for any future Australian AD guidelines.
It is necessary to explore the operational and technical options available to add AD tracks to the final point of transmission rather than embedding the tracks on the digibeta tapes as in the ABC’s Trial.