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

Development and harmonisation of subtitling
in European television broadcasting
Television for All
Harmonisation of tv subtitling (July 2001)
2001 JRC-ISIS Exploratory Research Programme

1) Objectives
2) Background - state of the art
3) European dimension
4) Achievements so far
5) Work to be carried out
6) Possible follow-up actions

Speech is the most important, most complex and most human tool for communication and interaction. We build our understanding of the world and of each other on verbal language based interaction and communication. The Information Society is a fundamental theme for EC and the access to television, multimedia and the Internet should be facilitated for all users. One of the main difficulties is the language knowledge, for normally hearing people using a non-mother tongue and for hearing impaired people using their mother tongue. Subtitling is a very powerful means for both groups and therefore the proposal is addressed to subtitling of television broadcasts and DVD for:

1) Objectives

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

Traditional analogic television, new digital television and radio and other communication via the Internet have 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!)

The experience gained by the VOICE Project with users with special needs has opened the ground to continue these activities and to extend them 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 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 correspond to JRC's role. Regular contacts with the broadcasters will also provide JRC with opportunities for spreading information on its activities.

2) Background - state of the art

"Language is a concern of the greatest importance to the people of Europe. It is integral to all our dealings, key to effective communication. Currently, diversity of language is one of the main barriers to international trade and a cause of relative isolation for parts of the population. At the same time, retaining and supporting this diversity is a determining factor for social and political cohesion within the EU." (from Telematics Applications Programme: Language Engineering progress and prospects '98).

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. For many citizens this applies for a second language, while for others it even applies for the first language. Subtitling is beneficial for the hearing people and for the hearing impaired people, at least for the large percentage of them non using sing language.

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.

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. Different national rules limit 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 colours coding, positions and permanence time on the screen. The same aspects concern also CD-ROM and DVD, with additional possibilities of active learning and easier updating of lessons.






Tools: voice recognition; stenotype; manual keyboard.

3) European dimension

4) Achievements so far

The VOICE Exploratory Research Project was followed by an Accompanying Measure, funded by DG-INFSO Telematics Applications Programme, giving 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. The prototype demonstrator has been used for live subtitling the speeches, this being an important means of validation on the field.

Workshop and meetings demonstrated the possibilities of the system to RAI, BBC, Swiss, Belgian, French, Danish and Swedish Television, 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 and RTBF recorded the activities respectively in the schools and in the university testing the VOICE prototype, for broadcasts in Italy, Belgium and Canada. 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.

Collaboration has been established with schools and universities, Associations of people with disability in several European countries, 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.

The 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

July 2001
Giuliano Pirelli

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