The UK broadcast and facilities markets are moving towards an agreed standard for loudness based on EBU R128. The practicalities were discussed by broadcasters and post-production houses during a meeting held in London at the end of September hosted by trade body UK Screen.
Like many other countries around the world the UK has been trying to deal with the problem of loudness on television for some time. Since 2008 guidelines have been in place for the audio production of commercials but now the broadcast and facilities industry as a whole is looking to implement a common standard for the production, distribution and transmission of programmes.
This headed by the Digital Production Partnership (DPP), formed by the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 to draw up guidelines for the production and exchange of programmes using both tape and file-based video formats. These will be followed by UK broadcasters including Sky, Five, S4C and UKTV, as well as the founding members.
As part of its specification the DPP selected the EBU R128 standard for loudness control and normalisation. The DPP's work comes four years after the Broadcast Committee on Advertising Practice (BCAP) introduced guidance on audio production of TV commercials to deal with discrepancies in level between them and programmes. These rules are based on ITU-R BS 1770, which was used as a starting point for the EBU PLOUD working group's research into loudness.
R128 was launched at IBC 2010, since when European broadcast regulators and broadcasters - and in some cases, governments - have based loudness regulation on it in a concerted effort to deal with a problem that has annoyed viewers for years.
In the UK over the last two to three years broadcasters and facilities have begun to use the new loudness meters appearing on the market, which now conform to the main normalisation standards, primarily 1770 (updated as 1770 part 2) and R128. But there is not a single guideline or standard for the UK broadcasting industry.
UK Screen, which represents facilities and producers in the TV and film industries, recently organised a survey of its members to gauge views and experiences of loudness mixing and technology. The results of this were passed on to the DPP and also formed the basis of a meeting held in Soho on 25 September to raise awareness of loudness in the move towards implementing R128 as a standard for broadcast programmes.
Among the speakers were Neil Hatton, chief executive of Azimuth Post Production and UK Screen's representative on the DPP Technical Standards Committee; Andy Quested, head of technology at the BBC; Kevin Burrows, chair of the DPP Technical Standards Committee and chief technical officer for broadcast and distribution at Channel 4 and Martin Black of BSkyB. Post-production and OB mixers were represented by Andy Payne, sound supervisor at SIS LIVE; Mark Owen, head of audio, Evolutions; Steve Cookman, senior audio manager, Molinare; and Ben Hooper, head of audio, Prime Focus (pictured clockwise from top left).
Neil Hatton told A4B that the aim of the meeting was to raise awareness of loudness and get UK Screen members to think about time-scales and technology for working with R128. "The state of readiness for this among professional audio facilities was quite advanced," he says. He adds that familiarity with R128 should not be confined to dubbing mixers: "A lot of audio goes to air without passing through a sound suite [so] Avid editors will need to learn new techniques for mixing to the required loudness level. We need to include them and MCR operators in the industry's training needs."
Ben Hooper points out that although the DPP guidelines will create common practices for broadcast, commercials are still covered by different regulations. BCAP recommended facilities should use loudness meters complying with BS 1770 but there is the option to peak at PPM 6. Hooper comments there are still people using PPM 6 and compression for commercials. "It's a Catch-22 and people will continue to do it until there is an official move to R128," he says.
The UK Screen meeting was supported by manufacturers and distributors including DK Technologies, Emotion Systems, Sound Network and Aspen Media, which handles RTW and Junger Audio. Aspen's managing director, Chris Collings, observes that compared to France and Germany the UK has been more hesitant in embracing R128 and general loudness control but says more people are now doing it. He adds that the transition from old techniques to the new is illustrated by facilities installing loudness meters alongside PPMs so operators can see how R128 relates to what they were doing before.
Before the meeting Kevin Burrows commented that the audio delivery specifications of the overall DPP guidelines were being re-written and would take account of R128. He added that during 2013 "guidance notes" would be drafted as part of a greater "ramping up" of loudness control. "Broadcasters are already working to comply with R128 but we want to work as an industry to achieve consistency with loudness," he said. "This will apply to levels within programmes as well as between different shows, commercials and promos."