The ABC will be trialling audio description on television content broadcast on ABC1, improving access to those who are visually impaired. The trail will commence in the middle of 2012 for 13 weeks with 14 hours of drama, documentary and other content that will feature audio description.
The decision comes after a 2010 report that said that a trial should be conducted sometime in 2011. Two years later, now Conroy has decided to enact the trial.
Audio description is verbal commentary overlaid on programmes that narrates what is happening on the screen – explaining scenes, settings, costumes and even facial expressions. No Australian broadcaster has embraced this technology. In contrast, it is prevalent in the UK with several channels – including the BBC and ITV – featuring audio description on several shows (though not all).
Senator Stephen Conroy has also announced that the trial will use similar technology used in the UK with “reciever-mixed” audio description. As described Media Access Australia, this means:
With receiver-mixed audio description, the normal audio stream for the program is broadcast, while the second audio stream consists of the audio description narration only, along with signals that lower the sound level on the primary audio stream so that the descriptions can be heard.
The trial will allow the ABC and Australian Government to assess the technical implications and implementations of such technology. A consultancy group – unnamed by the Government – has also been selected to identify digital television and set-top boxes capable of audio description technology.
“This consultancy will help people with a visual impairment participate in the trial by identifying digital televisions and set-top boxes capable of receiving audio description and the steps involved in activating this functionality,” said Senator Stephen Conroy in a statement.
“The trial will be accessible to any viewer of the ABC’s digital ABC1 service with an appropriate receiver. The consultancy will provide its final report in March, well ahead of the trial commencing mid-year.”
The ABC is also set to provide a report to the government after the trial has finished in the latter half of 2012.