Centro Comune di Ricerca della Commissione Europea, Istituto per la Protezione e Sicurezza del Cittadino, Progetto VOICE
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Media > Televisions > Harmonisation > Exploratory Research January 2001 (draft)

Development and harmonisation of subtitling
in European television broadcasting
Television for All
European Broadcasters (proposal - January 2001)
2001 JRC-ISIS Exploratory Research Programme

1) Objectives
2) Background - state of the art
3) Why should JRC do this work?
4) Achievements so far
5) Work to be carried out
6) Possible follow-up actions

1) Objectives

The research proposes the development and the harmonisation of new multimedia applications for television broadcasters and DVD producers.

The large availability of digital television channels, as well as of digital radio and of other communication means via the Internet, has an enormous potential for spreading information for all users (information, news, amusement, self training, distance learning, tele-working). Also video-cassettes, CD-ROM and DVD offer similar opportunities. The impact of these means would be even greater if the multilingual aspects could be overcome by subtitling: at least in the original language of the source of information, if possible also in other languages. (How easier would it be to follow a lesson or the news, if subtitled even only in the speaker's original language!).

One of the difficulties encountered by the producers is a lack of standardisation of subtitling and captioning and a limited knowledge of the final users' needs. Each country defines and uses its own rules, thus limiting collaboration and files exchanging. Identical or similar formats and a common approach would contribute reducing the subtitles' translating costs and improving the quality. The final users would more easily switch between different channels, all presenting the same subtitling colors coding, positions and permanence time on the screen. The same aspects should concern also CD-ROM and DVD, but are often neglected.

The experience gained by the VOICE and ACCESS projects with users with special needs has opened the ground to activities for all users. The contacts and collaboration established with the European broadcasters, the workshops and meetings organised in some European countries and in Canada, confirmed the need of harmonisation in this area. Experiences started earlier, thanks also to groups lobbying and Government's help, obliged the Canadian broadcasters to define and follow common rules and extend subtitles to a target of 100% of the broadcasts for year 2002. Also BBC and other television broadcasters are increasing their target's rate.

The proposed project will contribute to facilitate the access to information, offering an additional means to participate fully in the multilingual Information Society and improving the quality of life. The multilingual and supra-national aspects of such objectives perfectly correspond to JRC's role. Regular contacts with the broadcasters will also provide JRC with opportunities for spreading information on its role and activities.

2) Background - state of the art







The number of the hearing impaired is between 1% and 5% of the population (according to the degree of the hearing loss), which represents millions of people in Europe. Moreover, a lack of communication similar to that experienced by the deaf also affects the disadvantaged, the people living in foreign environments and the elderly. When united this group consists of more than 30% of the total population. Subtitling is one of the most powerful learning and training tools of any language. By reinforcing what is being learnt by hearing, it offers a unique opportunity to enrich the vocabulary, getting familiar with words used in their context.

3) Why should JRC do this work?

Some aspects described in this proposal (local news) may be considered as limited only to some of the European broadcasters, while other (films, documentaries) concern a larger television market. The even larger CD-ROM and DVD's world wide market is influenced by USA and Canadian competitors. JRC's role should help European producers and EC Services to discuss with overseas countries and provide support, in order either to improve collaboration or to defend our points.

4) Achievements so far

VOICE: the prototype demonstrator has achieved a good level of performances and has been used by the final users for live subtitling their speeches in conferences, this being an important means of validation on the field. An Accompanying Measure, funded by DG-INFSO Telematics Applications Programme, gave ISIS the task of developing awareness among users, systems producers and services providers. We organised and presented VOICE at a large number of international workshops and congresses to approximately 5000 participants.

A workshop with the European television broadcasters has demonstrated the possibilities of the system in a clear way. RAI and other television broadcasters (BBC, Televisione della Svizzera Italiana, Belgian RTBF, France2, Swedish Television, Austrian Television with Universities of Linz and of Klagenfurt) are considering the best use of this technology. RAI started subtitling the evening news as an answer to the hearing impaired users' requests, supported also by means of the project. RAI recorded the activities in the schools testing the VOICE prototype for a broadcast dedicated to new educational techniques in Italy. RTBF recorded a presentation and tests at the university for a broadcast for the hearing impaired in Belgium and Canada.

We extended the contacts to other European broadcasters, starting an overview of the rules for television subtitling in Europe and Canada. The contacts in Montreal provided additional valuable information, as the role of the Regroupement Québecquois pour le Sous-Titrage (RQST) and their political influence and lobbying, as a reference for further new initiatives.

ACCESS: investigated the development of multimedia applications for helping people with disability in accessing the Information Society in their education and training. Collaboration has been established with schools and universities in Italy, Austria and Belgium, Associations of people with disability in several European countries as well as in Canada and Chile. Activities for DG-Education NETDAYS were an opportunity to enlarge contacts with MOISE (Socrates) Project, for special user needs analysis in the school (in year 2000) and setting up a data base in Luxembourg (in year 2001). VoicePower (tele-working) and Write by Voice (distance learning) proposals have been submitted to calls for tenders.

The Voice and Access Projects' results, conclusions, user needs analysis and best practices are discussed and published on the VOICE Forum on the Web in several languages. This presentation follows the current recommendations for creating Internet contents accessible by people with visual impairment or reduced mobility.

5) Work to be carried out

6) Possible follow-up actions

January 2001
Giuliano Pirelli

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