Why Audio Description Production Is a Headache for Media Companies

Why Audio Description Production Is a Headache for Media Companies

If you produce video content, audio description should be high on your agenda. Along with captions, transcripts, appropriate media players, and a suitable design, audio description is a key component for ensuring a video is accessible to all your viewers. It's by no means an easy task though, and the traditional audio description workflow leaves many businesses floundering.


What is audio description?

Audio description for film and television is a form of narration that uses verbal descriptions to provide information on visual aspects of a media production.

In other words, a pre-recorded voice over track describes what is happening in a video, TV show or film.

Who needs audio description?

An audio description is primarily intended for blind or visually impaired viewers, so key visual elements are described to help their understanding of the video.

Here's a fun example of audio description in action...


Why is audio description important?

Audio description is a key element in producing accessible visual media content.

Without it, people with visual or cognitive impairments won't be able to fully understand or enjoy a video in the same way fully sighted people do.

Moral aspects aside, denying the blind and visually impaired access to media, products, and services falls foul of legal requirements.

Is audio description widely used?

Not particularly.

In the European Union, only between 4% to 11% of programming contains audio description.

When considering the millions of videos uploaded online every minute, the numbers make even worse reading.

Are there quotas for increasing audio description availability?

Some countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom promote accessibility by sticking to quotas.

However, critics say that quotas, which tend to hover around 10%, are currently too low.

For example, only 4% of German television is provided with an audio description, mainly because the quota only applies to public service TV stations.

Conclusion: Audio description is an essential element for making videos accessible to all. Yet not enough is being done to promote audio description availability.

audio description

Why is there a lack of audio-described content?

The reasons are manifold.

In order to understand why availability is lacking, we first need to take a closer look at the traditional audio description workflow.

How is an audio description usually produced?

The audio description production process typically involves the following steps:

Watching the video

  • The audio describer receives the video for which an audio description is required from the client
  • The audio describer watches the video to determine the gaps in dialogue where the audio description can be placed

Writing the script

  • The audio describer writes the time-coded script using a simple text editor, often with multiple viewings of the video
  • The audio describer sends the script to the client
  • If necessary, the client sends the script back to the audio describer with corrections
  • Once approved by the client, the script is exported to the relevant format(s)

Recording the audio description

  • The script is read out by a professional voice artist in the recording studio
  • A sound engineer mixes the audio in the recording studio
  • If necessary, the audio description is sent back to the audio describer or re-recorded in the studio when further corrections are requested by the client

Mixing and conversion

  • Once approved, the audio description is mixed to create a usable file
  • The audio file is converted to whichever media are required


Conclusion: With so many stages, reviews, and people involved, the workflow is fairly complex.
Recording an audio description in the studio. Man in background taking off headphones. Microphone in foreground.

How long does it take to produce an audio description?

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question.

Here are some of the main factors that can affect how long an audio description will take to produce:

Length of video

A simple one to start with: longer videos will usually require longer descriptions and more work.

Type of video

Video length isn't the only consideration though.

Content with plenty of dialogue such as documentaries may not need much visual description, whereas intricate animation films will need a lot of input from the audio describer.

Corrections

As you can see from the workflow above, there can be plenty of back-and-forth between the audio describer and the client when it comes to corrections.

Experience

People work at different paces.

An experienced audio describer will typically be able to work through more projects than someone just starting out.


Conclusion: With so many variables, it is difficult to determine how long it takes to produce an audio description.


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How much does it cost to make an audio description?

Now we're coming to what really matters for decision-makers and business owners: money

Again, there are a number of factors that come into play when calculating the costs of an audio description:

Price calculation

Audio description prices are usually calculated per minute of footage to be described.

Writers

In order to create the time-coded description transcript, you will need professional writers.

Writers' fees are reliant on lots of factors, such as experience and location.

In the UK, rates may be around £3 per minute of footage to be described, while German audio description writers charge up to €12 per minute.

Voice talent

Once the transcript is ready, human voice actors are required to deliver the description.

Voice actors tend to be paid per project based on the word count and their hourly rate.

With different transcript lengths and rates to consider, it is tricky to determine the voice actor's recording fee.

Recording studio and equipment

To create an audio description that is suitable for broadcasting, you need to record it with professional equipment.

Use of recording studios is a country-specific matter: While some audio describers and voice artists can do their own recordings from home, many clients require studio recordings.

Before delivery, the audio description also needs to be mixed with the original soundtrack of the TV show or film at the correct levels.

Studio hiring fees for this kind of production range start from around $50 per hour.

Audio description vendors

Audio description vendors provide all of the aforementioned services.

Different factors to consider for each component mean the price per minute can vary wildly.

While some (mostly questionable) audio description vendors ask for as low as $15 per minute, you will find others charging $75 for their service.


Conclusion: With various personnel, studio, and equipment fees, costs can be unpredictable and rise quickly.
audio description

What have we learned about audio description production?

Let's review the conclusions we've drawn from audio description production:

  • Audio description is essential for video accessibility.
  • Audio description availability is insufficient.
  • Media service providers are increasingly bound to quotas.
  • The workflow is complex.
  • It is difficult to say how long an audio description will take to produce.
  • Production costs are unpredictable and can rise quickly.

Summary and looking ahead

Faced with a complicated production process, quotas to meet, and high costs, it's no wonder that audio description gives media companies a headache. 

As laws for increasing accessibility continue to be passed, business owners have no choice but to get to grips with audio description.

While the process may seem a pain, it's a good exercise to identify where the difficulties lie in creating audio description. 

Let's now go through some of the solutions you can adopt for making your audio description production less time-consuming and more cost-effective.

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