We cover the world’s largest access conference

Thursday, 15 November 2012 09:02am

Hosted in Berlin every two years, the Languages and the Media conference brings together media access experts from around the world. Our CEO, Alex Varley will be presenting at the conference and keeping Media Access Australia’s audience up-to-date as the action unfolds on November 22-23 via the website and Twitter.

What is the conference about?

Languages and the Media combines academic research and practical information on the technologies and processes involved in delivering accessible media. The main components are separated into disability access, such as captioning, audio description and sign language; and translation using subtitles and dubbing. Technology is a major feature and this year’s conference promises to focus strongly on the competing demands of customising media for audiences and the constant search for efficiency and cost savings by broadcasters and access providers.

What are the sessions to look out for?

The conference starts with a discussion about public broadcasting. In Australia and many European countries, the public broadcasters are the drivers of new access services and techniques but are affected by cost-cutting and growing demands to provide yet more services for viewers.

Chaired by me, the next session looks at the rapidly growing field of access to the arts. The presentations range from the emergence of captioning and audio description for live theatre in Spain to the Australian smartphone accessibility technology for museums, galleries and other events by the Australian Communication Exchange, and the impact of translation of subtitles for theatre, in this case from Persian to English.

Later that day the focus switches to technology and its impact on revoicing, a common method for delivering live captions. New research and developments look at the use of revoicing and automatic software for audio description and translation from one language to another. One of the presenters is from Swiss TXT who did some early work on buffering live news captions to make them more readable. The main driver of audio description research in Spain, the Universitat de Autonoma de Barcelona, also features.

Caption quality is always a major discussion topic and an issue that regulators around the world are grappling with. One of the sessions is devoted purely to this and reflects the different stages that different countries are at. Presentations about standards and quality of captions in Italy and France will contrast with my presentation on whether measuring caption quality actually makes any difference to the viewer. This has been a keystone in the Australian regulator’s approach to caption quality. A copy of this presentation will be available on our website on 23 November. 

A major trend in access conferences has been the growth in importance of audio description (AD). Day two provides two sessions on different aspects of this service. In mainland Europe, developments in AD are often driven by the university sector and one session looks at issues around language and audio description in Dutch and Italian. This research should have many practical applications.

The challenge in audio description is centred on how you fit in blocks of description around the dialogue. This is easier in English as it has a much larger vocabulary and description can be phrased in different ways to fit the space. Researchers have identified how other languages that have a more defined, formal structure make this process much more challenging.

The second session takes this further, looking at audio description and how effectiveness in communicating what is happening to the audience can be measured. The presenters for this are the highly-respected Bernd Benecke from Bayerischer Rundfunk, who has been the major force in the development of audio description in Germany, and Louise Fryer from Vocal Eyes in the UK, who has trained many audio describers around the world, including in Australia. This session also features a case study on the development of AD in a newer market, Poland, and what should be a quirky presentation on the challenges of audio describing Woody Allen in Polish.  

For the more technically minded, sessions on European Broadcasting Union standards and timed-text as a subtitle exchange protocol and the challenges of 3D subtitling also feature.  UK provider Screen Subtitling features in the accompanying trade exhibition with its new solutions for providing subtitles and captions on multiple devices such as television, computers, tablets and mobile phones. It has released a white paper on this topic advocating its technical solution.


On Twitter, follow Media Access Australia and #languagesmedia for the latest updates.


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