BBC Vision announces results of TV audibility research

BBC Vision today announces the results of its groundbreaking television audibility research project, which will form part of a new best practice guide for programme makers.

The project is the first of its kind, and is the most in-depth piece of research that the BBC has ever carried out into investigating the precise factors that cause audibility problems.

This research has, for the first time, allowed the BBC to develop recommendations based directly on a detailed understanding of viewers’ experience.

In 2010, BBC Vision carried out two separate online surveys among its 20,000 strong Pulse panel to identify specific audibility issues.

Based on these findings, the BBC and the Voice of the Listener & Viewer (VLV) sound engineers carried out in-depth analysis to establish the underlying causes.

Finally a piece of research was devised to test a range of different sound mixes with different audience groups.


Key findings to emerge from the research include:


Audibility issues can rarely be attributed to one factor; it is usually a combination of factors. For example, a strong regional accent recorded in a noisy location; a softly spoken contributor looking away from the camera; background music or people talking over each other.

The vast majority of audibility problems can be eliminated before any material is shot, eg location choice, sound set up, sound rehearsal time, briefing presenters and contributors.

Audibility issues can be compounded with the addition of background music; a slight reduction in music levels (4DB) make a considerable difference to the audibility of programmes.


Danny Cohen, Controller, BBC One, said: “The BBC has listened to its audience and worked hard to understand fully the different issues that viewers have with television sound.

“I am delighted that the BBC has created a series of comprehensive ‘best practice’ films to support our producers and the wider production community to make clear, well-crafted television sound.

“I am particularly grateful to the support the Voice of the Listener and Viewer and the Royal National Institute for Deaf People and its membership has given us to help make this a reality.”

Tanya Motie, Editorial Executive for BBC One and BBC Three, who commissioned the audibility research, said: “Were aware that some viewers have issues with TV sound, but until now we’ve not been clear about how many people are affected or indeed what lies at the heart of these problems.

“As a result we believe we can take steps to improve audibility without compromising the editorial or creative ambition of programme makers.”

The BBC is publishing some best practice guidance for producers on the BBC Academy’s College of Production website, available for anybody to use. The guidance features industry experts giving their insight into how to produce top quality clear sound in all genres.

In addition, BBC Vision will be discussing TV audibility with executive producers in forums throughout BBC Vision.

VLV took part in this project in response to the frequent and large number of complaints they received over many years about inaudibility of speech in television programmes.

President Jocelyn Hay said: “This is the most common complaint VLV receives and in 2009 the number was growing. The problem is particularly serious among the elderly and those who already have hearing problems. It was in this context that VLV’s research proved so valuable.

“We are delighted that the BBC listened to viewers and reacted so positively to the problem. VLV is extremely grateful to all those who have given their expertise to help solve it. We hope that as a result millions of people, currently unable to enjoy television programmes fully, will be able to do so in future.”

RNID’s Director of Public Engagement, Emma Harrison, says: “RNID’s membership survey found a significant number of respondents said background noise affects their ability to hear speech on television and prompted more than half of respondents to switch off.

“We’re delighted that the BBC is listening to viewers’ concerns and their new industry-leading best practice guidance will make UK programmes more accessible to people with hearing loss.”

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