Do you watch television like it’s a part-time job? Then, like me, your DVR is probably chock-full of shows like Parks & Recreation, Modern Family, New Girl, The League, Covert Affairs, No Reservations, and RHO__ Reunions (don’t judge). However, unlike me, you probably don’t make active TV watching a perfectionist endeavor. “What does this mean, Albert?” Glad you asked.
This means watching every show with an undivided attention, rewinding segments several times with Closed Captioning on to catch every under-the-breath quip. Yes, watching TV with me is exhausting, and in the world of cord-cutters and Roku boxes, I’m reading dialogue on my HDTV like the grandpa from Up.
And I am just as hard of hearing.
So it was a bit of a surprise this summer to see a mysterious logo appear at the beginning of many of my favorite primetime shows:
On ABC, it’s accompanied by a cheerful ringtone, as you can hear in this YouTube clip:
For those of you who’ve seen the 1995 cyber thriller, The Net, starring Sandra Bullock, I immediately began to question this logo and its increasingly unsettling ringtone. After an hour of searching Twitter and Google for keywords like “AD))) Modern Family” to no avail, I happened upon a not-so-well-publicized explanation on ABC’s website:
“Audio description” (also referred to as “video description”) is the insertion of audio-narrated descriptions of a television program’s key visual elements into natural pauses in the program’s dialogue, making video programming more accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired.
Beginning July 1, 2012, under FCC requirements, the ABC Television Network will provide 50 hours of audio-described primetime programming per calendar quarter, at an average of four hours per week, via the Secondary Audio Programming (SAP) System.
Mystery solved – technology that helps visually-impaired folks catch the hilarious nuances of our favorite sitcoms! And it’s found on other networks, too!
But once I tried it out for myself, I was hooked. Crank up your volume and hear the differences between standard audio and the new Audio Description versions of The Mindy Project and New Girl:
[the videos are big, so let them buffer - they'll appear when ready]
As you can see, these descriptions are both useful, providing an additional filter to catch every nuance of your favorite shows, and downright hilarious. For more humorous examples, here’s the intro to Modern Family and another scene from New Girl:
My ultimate favorite example is the intro sequence to Parks & Recreation, which I’ll post when there’s a new episode on my DVR. You’ll be blown away by the Micro Machines-esque speed of verbal description.
So next time you see the creepy logo, you can proudly tell others that it’s not some conspiracy that you and Sandra Bullock need to solve. (Seriously folks, The Net is a quintessential 90′s movie!) But I highly suggest you all give it a try next time you see the logo. You can enable it via your TV’s audio settings, or if you have a cable box, via the on-screen menu audio settings. You’ll want to choose SAP, MTS, Spanish, or Español.
I haven’t been able to get Audio Description via On Demand or Online Streaming shows, so this will remain a treat for those of us who continue to get TV the old-fashioned way.
For more information, and to see a full listing of shows that offer AD))), check out this link from The Audio Description Project: An Initiative of the American Council of the Blind: http://www.acb.org/adp/tv.html