If you’ve watched any TV over the past few weeks, you’ve probably already seen the new push for awareness of Audio Description (AD) technology. AD is, effectively, the aural equivalent of subtitles / signing, allowing partially-sighted and blind people to access TV shows through a descriptive commentary.
The UK leads Europe in adoption of AD, with legislation that requires broadcasters to make a certain proportion of their programmes AD-compliant. The BBC must audio describe at least eight per cent of its programmes.
Both Ofcom and Sony believe that the rest of Europe should be catching up, and have called for similar legislation to be imposed that requires broadcasters to invest in the technology.
“We are all used to seeing and using subtitles on TV, but what many people don’t know is that the technology exists to make a similarly useful service available for the 30 million1 or so visually impaired people we have in Europe,” said Hiroshi Sakamoto, Vice President TV Operations Europe at Sony.
Why is Sony getting involved? Well, it’s not pure altruism, because they’re keen to point out that their BRAVIA range of TVs already have the necessary technology to decode and output AD. This means that there’s no need for a separate decoder.
Sony claims that, while many TV manufacturers now have products with integrated digital television (IDTV), few have the ability to offer AD access. BRAVIA TVs include a powerful decoder capable of decoding multiple audio channels, including AD.
Regardless of the free advertising for Sony, though, Ofcom’s campaign continues through March, and will hopefully raise awareness and take-up of a very useful service for the visually impaired.