Audibility gives star presenter the pip

A row over background music levels in television documentaries has coincided with publication of a report on the audibility of programmes, writes Kevin Hilton. The use of music in the popular BBC series Wonders of the Universe has highlighted the problems some viewers have understanding presenters.
Author:
Publish date:
Updated on

A row over background music levels in television documentaries has coincided with publication of a report on the audibility of programmes, writes Kevin Hilton. The use of music in the popular BBC series Wonders of the Universe has highlighted the problems some viewers have understanding presenters, which have been examined in an extensive research project commissioned by BBC Vision. Complaints about not being able to understand what is being said on TV are common but the BBC seemed unprepared for the 118 negative comments it received about Wonders of the Universe. "You don't have to dumb everything down by pretending we're all in a nightclub," complained one viewer about the music used underneath the links and narration of presenter Professor Brian Cox (pictured). The remaining programmes in the series were re-mixed to solve the problem, prompting an annoyed reaction from Cox himself: "It [the programme] should be a cinematic experience - it's a piece of film on television, not a lecture." The report by BBC Vision, the production division of the public broadcaster, was compiled in collaboration with lobby group Voice of the Listener and Viewer (VLV). It highlights several factors that can cause audibility problems: background music, noisy locations, softly spoken presenters looking away from the camera, people talking over each other and "regional accents". Best practice guidelines for producers have been drawn up and are available on the BBC Academy's College of Production website, along with short videos by leading sound professionals giving advice on how to produce good sound (link below). The research was commissioned by Tanya Motie, editorial executive for BBC One and BBC Three, who says although the BBC had been aware some viewers had problems with TV sound, how many people were affected or what was behind the difficulties was not clear. "As a result [of the survey] we believe we can take steps to improve audibility without compromising the editorial or creative ambition of programme makers," she says. www.bbc.co.uk/academy/collegeofproduction/tv/best_practice_tips

Related

Loudness on the agenda at Summit

Loudness has continued to be a talking point during 2011 and the year ends with a conference this Friday (16th December) to discuss the problems faced in delivering good quality, consistent sound to TV viewers, writes Kevin Hilton.

Audibility: Your levels in their hands

Volume is high on the broadcast technology agenda. First it was loudness and now it's audibility. Kevin Hilton looks at Fraunhofer's system for controlling speech and backgrounds independently and how it was used during Wimbledon.

Spectrum auction delay gives PMSE time

The saga surround the reallocation of frequency spectrum in the UK has taken yet another turn with the regulator, Ofcom, putting back the auctions for 4G space until at least the fourth quarter of 2012, writes Kevin Hilton.

Headphone level control - monitoring versus limiting

Technology has allowed higher and higher sound levels to be produced at better and better quality over the past 20 years but more recently there has been a realisation of what this can do to people's hearing. The European Commission acted on this in 2003 by issuing a Directive to harmonise noise control legislation across Europe, which led employers in broadcasting, live music and industry to consider how to protect both staff and the public. In broadcasting, limiter circuits on headphones have been a first line of defence but, as Kevin Hilton reports, a new approach is being taken for location filming.

The ever-evolving progress of sports sound

As English Premier League football moves towards the end of another season, sound supervisor Ian Rosam surveys the important role audio has played in the presentation of sport on TV and muses on how technology has brought new challenges in getting the action to the viewer. Kevin Hilton takes notes.

Post under scrutiny after X Factor row

The X Factor has come out of the Auto-Tune row with an even higher media profile but the whole affair obscures the fact that pitch-changing technology is now as much an established tool in TV post-production as it is in music recording, writes Kevin Hilton.