Monday, December 5, 2011

Making Television Accessible

This report looks at the strategic implications of making audiovisual content accessible to persons with disabilities. The focus includes not only the content itself, but also the information and devices needed by people to enjoy audiovisual content. It is written for professionals involved in decisions to introduce or scale up measures to make television and other kinds of audiovisual content accessible.

The term "audiovisual content" is a broad term used to cover content with pictures and sound. The most widely used audiovisual content today is television. But audiovisual content also includes cinema films and videos distributed on other networks (for example the Internet and mobile telephone networks). It also includes audiovisual content distributed on physical storage media (pre-recorded videos on cassettes, CDs and DVDs, recordings on hard disc and flash-memory devices such as video recorders, computer games delivered on storage media), online or combinations of local and network storage.

While the report covers analogue and digital content, the emphasis is on digital media. Twenty years ago, digitalization began to have an impact on the distribution of audiovisual content. Currently, television is going digital. Analogue television transmission has already been shut off in many countries around the world. We can expect the switch to digital distribution to be complete sometime in the next fifteen years.nSimilarly, digital cinemas are on the increase. Today, consumers use their computers, tablets or smart phones to access television, video and music, and the Internet has become a means of sharing not only television but also short-form video content via portals such as YouTube.

Although the aim of this report is to address audiovisual works in general, the focus is on television, in particular Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT). The reason for this choice needs explaining. While the production or authoring of access services is much the same for any digital time-based medium, when it
comes to the Internet there is a wide variety of distribution solutions on both the open Internet and on IPTV. There are currently more than 12 widespread IPTV solutions and the number is growing. Some of them build on the work of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the Open IPTV standards and its rigorous stance on intellectual property so that the standards are truly open. Others are based on ad hoc industry consortia. One such group is the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG) that has made proposals for handling access services as part of HTML5. Others include the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE) working on a Digital Rights management system allowing digital audiovisual content to be accessed from multiple devices, and Apple’s iCloud. Ultimately the availability and cost of providing access services on Internet-based platforms will be determined in the market place by the relative success of these contenders.

As the principles behind the creation, exchange and delivery of access services are the same, this report concentrates on examples of good practice from broadcasting. Broadcasting is a highly regulated area where more than 60 years of international standardization has been successful in achieving the exchange of programmes and the interoperability of television services. The four major digital television ”families” of standards have gone from continental to global use. Fortunately, they all build on the same basic building blocks such as the MPEG2 and MPEG4 encoding and decoding standards and have well-defined mechanisms for creating, exchanging and delivering access services. Good practice from broadcast television can be adapted and then applied to the authoring and digital distribution of other kinds of audiovisual content.

Apart from going digital, the characteristics of audiovisual content continue to change. There has been a move towards better picture quality (High Definition), multi-channel audio, three-dimensional images and also the inclusion of interactivity. While the report cannot address all of these topics, it can provide strategic pointers to action in the short, medium and long term.

This report is written with a range of decision-makers in mind:

Access service advocates from organizations representing persons with disabilities wishing to get a clear picture of the access options currently available and in the development pipeline.

Media executives concerned with access service provision and complying with media regulation.

Regulators and legislators working on measures to improve digital media accessibility to comply with international conventions and directives.

Pay-TV operators and consumer electronics manufacturers and sales outlets examining the implications of demographic change and media regulation on their business. The report aims to help the reader with the following kinds of strategic challenge:

Formulate the objectives and Key Performance Indicators to make television accessible in a given territory.

Set up from scratch and operate one or more access services on analogue television.

Plan the transition from analogue to digital television and the access services that accompany television programmes.

Conduct pilot tests of a new access service on digital television.

Scale up access services after completion of a pilot phase.

Common to all of these challenges is the ability to identify the nature and extent of the access challenge.

The report starts here by first looking at the needs that have to be addressed by accessible television.

The report also explains in general terms what the options are for improving the accessibility of television.
In subsequent chapters there is more about the options for producing and delivering access services, and what they cost to establish and run.

It concludes with a chapter on managing change – metrics, key performance indicators and processes to get started. Mention is made of a range of legal instruments that can be used to ensure that a new access service, or an existing service that is scaled up, becomes a success.

A check list of strategic issues that need to be covered when considering actions to make television accessible has been included as an appendix to this report. This check list can be used to ensure that key issues have been considered.

This report is published in cooperation with G3ict – The Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies, whose mission is to promote the ICT accessibility dispositions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities ITU and G3ict also co-produce the e-accessibility Policy Toolkit for Persons with Disabilities and jointly organize awareness raising and capacity building programmes for policy makers and stakeholders involved in accessibility issues around the world.

This report has been prepared by Peter Olaf Looms, Chairman ITU-T Focus Group on Audiovisual Media Accessibility.