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BBC tackles 'noisy' TV programmes - 16-March-2011, 22:40

BBC tackles 'noisy' TV programmes
Tuesday, March 15 2011, 13:11 GMT
By Andrew Laughlin,

BBC Vision has today published the results of a TV audibility research project, coming in the wake of controversy surrounding the music on Professor Brian Cox's new science series.

The study, described by the BBC as its most ambitious ever in the area, attempted to investigate the factors that make it difficult for people to hear what is going on in some TV shows.

Last year, BBC Vision ran two separate online surveys among its 20,000-strong Pulse panel to identify specific audibility issues in programmes. Using the data, sound engineers from the BBC and the Voice of the Listener & Viewer (VLV) organisation identified the underlying causes of sound problems.

The findings indicated that a combination of factors usually causes audibility issues, particularly in the way programmes have been produced. For example, problems were often reported in shows featuring strong regional accents recorded in noisy locations, or programmes with loud background music.

The report comes after more than 100 complaints poured into the BBC about the excessive music volume on Cox's Wonders Of The Universe, which prompted the corporation to re-edit the BBC Two series.

However, Cox criticised the move, claiming that the programme "should be a cinematic experience - it's a piece of film on television, not a lecture".

The BBC Vision report noted that audibility issues can be "compounded" by background music, and recommended that a slight reduction in music levels could make a "considerable difference" to the audibility. The BBC will now create a new best practice guide on preventing audibility issues in TV production to be shared with the industry.

BBC One controller Danny Cohen said: "The BBC has listened to its audience and worked hard to understand fully the different issues that viewers have with television sound.

"I am delighted that the BBC has created a series of comprehensive 'best practice' films to support our producers and the wider production community to make clear, well-crafted television sound.

"I am particularly grateful to the support the Voice of the Listener and Viewer and the Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) and its membership has given us to help make this a reality."

Tanya Motie, editorial executive for BBC One and BBC Three, who commissioned the audibility study, added: "Were aware that some viewers have issues with TV sound, but until now we've not been clear about how many people are affected or indeed what lies at the heart of these problems.

"As a result we believe we can take steps to improve audibility without compromising the editorial or creative ambition of programme makers."

VLV took part in the research project after receiving a large number of complaints over the years about inaudibility of speech in television programmes.

Jocelyn Hay, VLV president, said: "This is the most common complaint VLV receives and in 2009 the number was growing. The problem is particularly serious among the elderly and those who already have hearing problems. It was in this context that VLV's research proved so valuable.

"We are delighted that the BBC listened to viewers and reacted so positively to the problem. VLV is extremely grateful to all those who have given their expertise to help solve it. We hope that as a result millions of people, currently unable to enjoy television programmes fully, will be able to do so in future."

Emma Harrison, the RNID's director of public engagement, added: "RNID's membership survey found a significant number of respondents said background noise affects their ability to hear speech on television and prompted more than half of respondents to switch off.

"We're delighted that the BBC is listening to viewers' concerns and their new industry-leading best practice guidance will make UK programmes more accessible to people with hearing loss."

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