Highlights of 2013: cinema access advances

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Monday, 2 December 2013 11:23am

Throughout December Media Access Australia will bring you a summary of the biggest developments in access to media and technology seen in 2013. The first looks at developments in cinema both in Australia and internationally.

New technologies

In Europe three separate companies are introducing captioning or captioning and audio description to Italy and Spain through innovative devices.

In Italy, MovieReading is continuing its delivery of closed captions in Italian, either viewable on compatible smartphones and tablets or through interactive glasses. Most cinemas rely on the patron to arrive at the cinema with captions downloaded on their device and will provide a refund for the download purchase. Twelve of the 60 cinemas using MovieReading provide viewing devices free of charge.

Two Spanish companies are tackling accessible cinema in different ways. Whatscine works in a similar way to MovieReading but also provides audio description and sign language interpretation. Whatscine is available in 23 Spanish cinemas. The newer Acce-play, which is still gaining traction, allows cinemas to offer personal viewing screens, interactive glasses, or open captions shown on a panel placed directly under the main movie screen.

A number of seed projects have also grabbed the attention of accessible cinema fans and hint at opportunities in the coming years.

A team of students from Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf in the USA developed InvisibleCaptions: glasses with lenses and a custom filter that would capture ultraviolet (UV) light. A movie projector would send out the UV light, but only those with the glasses would see the captions. The idea was the major prize winner of the Institute’s Next Big Idea competition.

In the UK, inventor Jack Ezra is hoping to have a demonstration model of the Off-Screen Cinema Subtitle System ready by the year’s end. It uses similar technology to InvisibleCaptions.

Developments from the studios

Moviemakers in Hollywood have taken notice of this year’s increasing pressure to provide content to a wider audience through a mix of delivery options. Captions from a number of studios are being formatted in both closed and open formats and being delivered worldwide, allowing cinemas to offer open captioned sessions with distributor permission. This is beginning to gain traction with various Australian cinema companies developing relationships with Australian Deaf and hearing impaired groups. We may start seeing open captioned sessions shown on an ad-hoc basis thanks to this technology.

The second significant development from Hollywood is the start of movie trailer closed captioning. While no formal commitment has been made, captioned trailers have begun to hit movie screens in the USA. This allows patrons to test their closed caption unit prior to the main feature beginning, but as not every trailer is captioned, nor may that trailer be programmed onto a screen where a captioned movie is about to start, it’s not yet a sturdy test system for closed captioning of a movie. Captioned trailers are yet to be released in Australia but local distributors are working with Hollywood on this.

Local news

In Australia the four major chains, Hoyts, Village, Event and Reading, are reaching the end of the third year in the four-year agreement to start accessible sessions at all their locations.

While Hoyts, Village and Event have completed their equipment installation and started showing accessible sessions at all locations, at the time of publication Reading Cinemas had closed captions at only two cinemas nationally and no audio description.

A questionnaire conducted earlier in the year by Media Access Australia did not produce enough submissions to make definite statements, but it did indicate some common concerns shared by cinema goers, such as captions dropping out in the middle of movies.

Industry conversations since have led to the suggestion that these dropouts may be caused by how the CaptiView transmitter has been installed. While the transmitter can be hardwired into auditoriums, it seems that most cinema complexes have gone with the USB option that is plugged into the cinema server. As servers are conventionally located in back rooms, often surrounded by soundproof walls, it’s suggested that this installation method is preventing a clear transmission of the signal to CaptiView units. Although this potential problem is not easily solved, cinema operators should take note of it for future installations.

2014 and beyond

While significant developments and discoveries have been made this year, most movie patrons would not have noticed any difference to the way they experience accessible movies. But we can be assured that progress is being made in all corners of the world – some of which is being led by committed Australians pushing for better access – and that progress will continue to benefit the choices we have in enjoying movies.

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