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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.

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

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