My Sound Cinema
Short bio of organisation
Screen Language Ltd offers accessibility and linguistic services for film including multilingual subtitles, captioning/descriptive subtitles, audio description, live captioning and BSL interpreting.
We collaborate with external bodies and universities to investigate the new frontiers of accessibility, aiming to improve equality, diversity and inclusion in the film sector.
Work done so far includes translation, subtitling and audio description of award-winning international fiction and documentaries, film festivals, exhibitions and events as well as investigations on how to overcome the technical challenges associated with enhanced film access requirements.
Short synopsis of the project:
My Sound Cinema is the first online cinema dedicated to audio described film and designed specifically for the blind and vision impaired community.
It consists of a pioneering platform, uniquely purpose-built for navigation using screen readers. The platform works as a real online cinema, enabling viewers to access a wide range of releases from a diverse programme built according to feedback from audio description users. The films are sourced directly from the right holders, via agreements with individual UK film distributors who have films available with audio descriptions in their catalogues.
The films are made available as TVOD on the platform, at a ticket cost agreed with individual distributors. The net revenues from each film sale are split equally between the Cinema and the right holders.
Why the project matters
Most funded film projects have audio description as a compulsory part of the production deliverables. However, many of these files end up unused, or shared through online platforms that are difficult to find or navigate. To quote the words of some of our Sound Cinema survey respondents: “To access AD many platforms require a sighted person to activate AD for you”, “In each platform, it does seem hit and miss”, “To be honest the frustration I end up feeling I’m more likely to opt for reading an audiobook than watching a tv program or film”.
This Project serves multiple purposes:
- Offering a service to an underserved part of society – and doing so in a targeted and purpose- made way.
- Setting higher standards of online accessibility. The online cinema has been developed with screen reader users in mind and tested by blind and vision impaired testers.
- Setting higher standards of audio description, through an AD rating system available for each film.
- Working as a reference point to find existing audio descriptions. By providing one reference online location for new audio described releases, the Sound Cinema will enable distributors to locate them when needed.
- Working as a community contact point. The Sound Cinema could also eventually turn into a networking and reference place for vision impaired film lovers.
- Gathering essential data. The Sound Cinema will also serve the purpose of filling the current information gap regarding habits and preferences of blind and vision impaired users.
Note: 360,000 people are officially registered as completely blind – and almost 2 million people are living with severe sight loss, in the UK alone.
My Sound Cinema aims to:
- increase accessibility to previously created audio descriptions.
- improve the visibility and knowledge around audio description as an essential accessibility aid for blind and vision impaired audiences.
- set an example of high standards of online accessibility, specifically for screen reader users.
- provide a space for discussion around audio description quality and availability.
- collect data around the needs and preferences of the community of audio description users.
The launch of the website itself was the greatest success of the project, featuring:
- Audio description as default for all films (i.e. audiences don’t need to turn it on to start it). This has been achieved by requesting audio described films by producers, or when these weren’t readily available, we mixed the separate audio description tracks with the films at our end.
- Fully accessible programme. All the films on My Sound Cinema feature audio description. This comes on as a default for each film; All the films on My Sound Cinema also have large size captions, or subtitles for foreign language films. Captions can be turned on from within the video player.
- Accessible website, including implementation of: The use of the braille institute’s hyperlegible typeface for body copy throughout the site; Large size fonts and wide spacing between lines; Colours of logo, text and background consistent with WCAG 2.1 level AA (contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for large text); Alt text (film titles, duration and short synopsis) on poster images; Clearly organised pages, easy to navigate using a screen reader; Using semantic HTML code to structure the pages to facilitate the above.
- Audio description rating system available for each film.
- We also created fully accessible (captioned and audio described) trailers which are now available for each film.
When crafting the programme, we strived to include as diverse titles as possible, including a variety of ages, genders, ethnicities, sexual orientations and disabilities, both as directors and as characters of the films. We also tried to encourage participation of independent productions, which might be more difficult for screen reader users to find online.
Throughout the making of this project, we have been organising and implementing the feedback of a steering group and of main consultant Kirin Saeed, member of the Creative Scotland Equalities, Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Group. The steering group is made of established professionals in the field of access consultancy for blind and vision impairments including representatives of Sight Scotland, the Audio Description Association, the winner of the 2021 RNIB Social Media Awards and tech accessibility consultants.
We had a pool of 48 visually impaired respondents to our online survey on the Sound Cinema idea, 28 of which offered their availability to become part of a focus group to guide the website construction work.
We have also engaged with many relevant UK stakeholders including engaging directly, and obtaining the formal support of, RNIB, Sight Scotland and testing help by the Pocklington Trust. In particular Sonali Rai, Head of Audio Description at RNIB, endorsed the project and supported us in sharing it through the RNIB networks.
From a technical perspective, we are using a third-party VOD platform, Eventive, which allows us to offer a state-of-the art and fully secure system which is recognised by distributors internationally. It also includes features such as a backend with secure payment system (via Stripe), secure storage and encryption of the films uploaded on the site, thorough analytics for each purchased ticket, synchronisation with Mailchimp to build our newsletter audience (which, according to the steering group, is the best way to keep in touch with our blind and vision impaired audiences), the possibility of hosting live events and to offer discount codes.
The total budget for this project was £57,500. This allowed us to build the website using a third-party application (as well as paying for marketing, programming, consultations, web designs and logos, PR and project coordination) but would not have been sufficient to cover the creation of a secure VOD platform from scratch. This somehow affected the overall accessibility of the website, as any requested changes had to be made within a pre-existing template and implemented by the Eventive technical team, which was not always possible.
The engagement with the vision impaired community was the most satisfactory and, we think, an essential part of this project, in particular:
- Consultation with a visually impaired focus group throughout the website creation process. We have a steering group made of audio description users and specialised professionals with various degrees of vision impairment; a main professional blind consultant; and a wide pool of testers, some of which were provided by the Pocklington Trust, an established sight loss charity.
- We are also deeply engaged with the RNIB and Sight Scotland and have their official support.
- We created a direct line of communication with vision impaired audiences through advertisement on specific networks and the creation of a newsletter- to facilitate access even further.
We were also very satisfied with the reach of our online audio described and captioned launch promotional animated video – which had over 15,000 views on Twitter.
And it was amazing to be invited to talk at the BBC In Touch podcast which was broadcast live on BBC Radio 4 (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001cdtv).
What didn’t work
As mentioned, having to rely on a third party platform meant we had to liaise with their technical team with regards to any structural changes that we weren’t able to implement from our end – this entailed a lot of back and forth and conversations with their US based teams, multiple support requests and enquiries, not all of which they have yet been able to address. There is also further feedback and comments coming up all the time from website users and so we are striving to address these, and feeding back to the users, as quickly as possible, which has been quite challenging.
The project turned out to be a lot more work-intensive than initially envisaged, especially with regards to the marketing and programming side of things. Further resources will be needed to keep pushing on both these aspects, and to sustain the platform further until it becomes self-sustainable.
Finally, we had to opt out of creating a TV app for now, as it was going to be overly expensive. But we have created an “audio described trailers” social media campaign which will hopefully be effective in reaching out to our audiences, and which had not originally been planned.
What you’d do differently if you did it again
It would have been great to have more budget throughout the development of the website, and to push marketing further and to add more films to the programme. We are hopeful that this can happen in the future.
Awareness & attitudes
I believe this project has helped, and will continue to help, to raise awareness of what audio description is and why it should be used. It provides clear examples of audio description for people to access online, and through the AD trailer campaign will raise more awareness of why online content should be audio described.
It has also helped engaging the vision impaired community with the audio description making process and build an additional bridge between makers and users of this service.
Finally it also allowed us to build a newsletter audience of over 150 subscribers over 3 months, which will be an invaluable tool to keep in touch directly with interested stakeholders and audio description users.
This project has been led by an ethos of diversity and inclusion and guided primarily by the feedback and preferences of the blind and vision impaired specific audience. These were garnered through consultations with a steering group made of consultants with various degrees of vision impairments, our main blind consultant and a number of testers with various types of vision impairments.
Knowledge & experience
A list of our public engagements is below:
- In July 2022 we took part in Pocklington Trust Steering Committee
- During launch week (first week of October 20220) we had an interview on BBC 4 In Touch; a podcast on Double Tap Podcast; and a programme on RNIB Connect Radio.
- In January 23 we recorded a podcast with the Torch trust and one with the Low Vision Bureau
My Sound Cinema Website
My Sound Cinema Twitter
My Sound Cinema Facebook
My Sound Cinema trailer [captioned]:
Introducing the My Sound Cinema team [captioned]:
About Screen Language
Screen Language is a professional film subtitling, translation and audio description production company based in Edinburgh, Scotland. Since 2010, they have been assisting the film and media industry in the UK and internationally with high-quality language and accessibility services, working with the latest translation and subtitling technologies.