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BBC, Channel 4 and ITV to extend Audio Description service

Category: BBC

Date: 21.06.2004
Printable version

The BBC, together with Channel 4 and ITV, announced today that they would be making Audio Description available via digital satellite television.

Audio Description, or AD, is a service that provides an additional audio commentary to describe what is happening on screen for visually impaired viewers.

The BBC, ITV and Channel 4 have been working closely with the RNIB (Royal National Institute of the Blind) and manufacturers to develop an Audio Description system for blind and partially sighted people known as Receiver Mix, the only system that fully meets the RNIB's specifications.

This version of AD can also be decoded by receivers using a chip which can currently offer additional facilities such as a spoken EPG (the Electronic Programme Guide which provides on-screen scheduling information for digital viewers).

The technology is proven and manufacturers are beginning to build it into the next generation of set-top boxes.

Hundreds of blind and partially sighted people are already enjoying this service on digital terrestrial television via a set-top box manufactured by Netgem.

It is a high quality, user friendly, technically efficient system and, as public service broadcasters, we would like to see it available to all viewers on every platform.

We are confident that Ofcom will encourage this process, as they have a duty to encourage manufacturers to develop apparatus which can easily be used by people with disabilities under the terms of the 2003 Communications Act.

However, there are some blind and partially sighted people (in particular some 2,000-3,000 Sky subscribers) who already own set-top boxes which cannot receive Audio Description through the Receiver Mix system but are able to receive the simpler Broadcast Mix system.

We have therefore decided, following discussions with the RNIB, that we should offer Broadcast Mix as an interim measure until Receiver Mix set-top boxes are available for every platform.

We intend to begin this service as soon as is practicable.

For information about Audio Description, call BBC Information on 08700 100 789 or visit

Notes to Editors

Audio Description (AD) is a system which makes television programmes more enjoyable to people with sight problems by providing commentary to explain events during the silent parts of programmes, for example, where there is no dialogue or narration.

Broadcast Mix AD is delivered to the user as part of the programme and cannot therefore be adjusted in any way.

This way of providing AD does not have any other features.

Receiver Mix AD is delivered as an adjustable stream - volume of the description can be adjusted separately to the volume of the programme and headphones can be used to avoid disturbing other viewers who do not want to use the service.

A speaking EPG allows people with sight problems to select programmes much more easily.

Receiver Mix AD has been developed by the BBC's Kingswood Warren Research and Development teams, together with manufacturers and other broadcasters.



Category: BBC

Date: 21.06.2004
Printable version


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