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sub titling

(12 Posts)
ken1943 Tue 10-May-11 12:13:19

I wonder if any other users of this forum are as fed up as am I with the sub titling on TV?
I am severely hearing impaired and depend completely on programmes being sub titled.
Fair enough, most programmes on most channels are now adequately and correctly sub titled. But, when I watch a DVD the sub titling is in white letters directly on the screen. On TV the letters are in a black box.
I find this most offensive. For the majority of programmes (the excellent drama programmes on BBC and ITV for instance) it is not too bad, but for nature programmes a HUGE segment of screen is blotted out by that black box. For me most of the walking programmes ? which I love ? are ruined by a fifth of the screen being obscured. If it is all right for DVDs why not for TV?
I have written to the email address given for BBC sub titling and not received a reply.
Am I being unreasonable?
If not what can I do to try to get those responsible to consider the way this is done?
Best Wishes,

lucyjordan Tue 10-May-11 12:32:24

First off Ken id like to say its good to see a man posting, I only joined yesterday so dont really know what the membership consists of, but i was beginning to think it was all tweed skirted grannies, wearing brogues, or members who see this site as just another Mumsnet, which it surely isnt meant to be?

As for subtitles

I totally agree with your comments. I too feel that there could be a better way of displaying them, I have tried both the cable subtitles and the teletext ones and both get in the way of watching whats on the screen.

Another bug bear of mine is how the words never keep up with the spoken dialogue and how often the machinations of the service get the dialogue totally wrong anyway. I have had a few laughs at some of the things that have been displayed mistakenly, but to be honest most of the time it just maddens me to read so many errors. Why cant they get it right?

ken1943 Tue 10-May-11 16:25:41

Hi Lucyjordan,
I am a bit worried that I shall come over as a 'I don't believe it' sort of character! But hang it all, if DVDs can get away with white see-through words surely TV can also.
Yes, I agree with you about the synchronisation. But it is MUCH better than it was just a couple of years ago.
Also stations like ITV3 now generally have subtitles for their prime time programmes.
And also I do agree that sometimes the words are just plain wrong! People ask me if I need subtitles how I know that they are wrong, but it is odd that with subtitles I CAN hear what is said, I think it is to do with my brain dealing very slowly with audio input whereas I can read at high speed.
Thanks again for your comments - I just hope we get some input from someone with ideas for complaining - politely but effectively!
Best Wishes,
ps I understand that with live programmes (news etc) that the words are computer generated so I have no problems with words being hugely and hilariously WRONG!

raggygranny Wed 11-May-11 19:50:27

I agree about the annoyance of the 'black box' style of subtitling. The box also often obscures the names of contributors on documentaries, so that I am left wondering who the speaker is and how they are qualified to comment on the topic. But I have had some good laughs at the subtitling of live programmes - my all-time favourite is 'up stray aliens' for Australians! grin

ken1943 Thu 12-May-11 05:38:53

"Up stray aliens" - well, in my experience, why not? (With, of course, apologies to all antipodeans in here....)
Further to the original thread, another very annoying practice, and one which at one time was so regular as to have me believing it was deliberate, was on Channel Five.
A key word or phrase would be omitted so that although one could easily follow what was being said up till then because of the omission the whole point was missed.
But back to the black box: is there no one with a suggestion on how do approach the culprits to get it changed?
Although, and again I suspect I am moving into the miserable old geezer mode, I am coming to the conclusion that those in charge (hereinafter known as 'Them') simply do not care about hearing impaired people and by providing sub titles are just going through motions of inclusivity.

NonGran Sat 14-May-11 10:50:16

Hi there,

I was a subtitler in England in the early 2000s (but not with the BBC). We used to type the subtitles until voice recognition technology superseded this - not because it was more reliable, but (sadly) because it was much more cost efficient. This involved us repeating into a microphone what was being said on TV.

As mentioned by Ken, this did (and I guess still does) indeed lead to all sorts of unfortunate live mistakes - such as "Jesus!" instead of "Deuce" during the tennis. My favourite was one I read in Private Eye, where the BBC's subtitle read: "Yasser Arafat's death was marked on the Gaza Strip with a minute's violence."

So that at least explains the gaffes - as Ken had pointed out. (RaggyGranny, I love the "Up stray aliens" particularly as I now live in Australia!)

Re: the gaps at Channel 5, I didn't work there either (!) but I imagine that the subtitlers may have been typing at the time and would have "mind freezes" (believe me, it can be intense at times) from which it is impossible to recover during live output. The same could happen with voice recognition - although I remember it was easier to keep the pace.

While I can't speak for all subtitlers, certainly my colleagues and I were very interested in doing the best job that we could and we ourselves could become very frustrated with the limitations of the technology (particularly when they were cost-cutting measures, although understandable in commercial enterprise).

Sadly I don't know the answer to the black box situation. Re: the lack of response, I will ask my colleagues if they have any links with the BBC although I can't guarantee anything.

It would be good to have this resolved though and I will help if I can.

PatM Sat 14-May-11 22:12:03

I recently watched a See Hear programme, which commented on subtitling, and explained the different ways of doing this. I was interested to find out why the 'gaffs' are made - and yes, some are hilarious, but it must be so frustrating for those of you who are D/deaf/HOH.
I have many D/deaf friends, and use BSL myself, and therefore See Hear is always an interesting programme for me, as I like to keep up with D/deaf news etc.
I often use subtitles myself, as I find that a lot of programmes (often the American ones) are difficult to understand, and so subtitles are useful - in their own - often incorrect - way.

Joan Sun 15-May-11 04:32:57

My first encounter with subtitles was when I was an au pair in Austria in the 1960s, We went to see a rather rude English film, which was subtitled into German. I was horrified to see that the sub titlers censored the script! So the English speakers in the audience would be laughing at a rude joke, and the non-English-speaking Austrians would be looking around, puzzled.

Later I became a translator, and was taught that it is deeply unethical to translate inaccurately, regardless of how you feel about the text. I think this should apply to subtitles.

PatM Sun 15-May-11 12:40:50

Joan, that is so true! When I was learning BSL I was told that, if there is ever a time when needing to interpret to someone, then, no matter how embarrassing or insulting a comment was, it HAD to be interpreted to the person correctly. It is more insulting/rude to leave the person wondering what had been said about - or to - them.

ken1943 Mon 16-May-11 14:20:22

Thank you very much for your considered response - I appreciate it.
In spite of what I have said I really am happy with the quality of subtitling. And it has much improved over recent years. (Not that I am suggesting that it has improved since you left .....)
Yes, the american programmes are very difficult - though I always have problems with accents. I am terrified of offending someone who is from Scotland or N Ireland, I just can not understand them - so US TV is very difficult. Also my hearing problem is one of quality not quantity. I hear SOUNDS within certain pitches quite well - I just can't seperate them, so any background music for instance or material taped in a pub of cafe and it is all over for me!
That is so even on the BBC! I often notice that 'sexually offensive' comments are deleted. If they are ok for hearing people why not for us HI people?
May I thank everyone who has contributed to this thread.
And finally I would like to attach an email I have received from the BBC complaints department. I have to say I just don't believe that, as they say, "...from the feedback we have received on such issues the majority of our audiences are more than satisfied with the service provided"
Yes, I am happy with the subtitles - but I cannot believe that anyone would want the dreaded Black Box, when foreign language films and DVDs are provided with white see-through letters.

Dear Mr Ward

Reference CAS-753423-3XSTF3

Thanks for contacting the BBC.

I understand that you're unhappy with format in which the subtitles are delivered as you feel that they can obstruct viewing in some programmes.

We generally place our subtitles near the bottom of the screen because they are less obtrusive there and it is at this level that they are most comfortably read. We try to make the subtitles as visible as possible without distracting the viewer from what is happening on the screen.

Obviously decisions such as this will not please everyone, however from the feedback we have received on such issues the majority of our audiences are more than satisfied with the service provided.

We regret that on this occasion you felt the need to complain and hope this will not cause too much inconvenience in the future.

We’re guided by the feedback that we receive and to that end I'd like to assure you that I've registered your complaint on our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that's made available to all BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, programme makers, channel controllers and other senior managers.

The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

Kind Regards

Tanya McKee
BBC Complaints

NB This is sent from an outgoing account only which is not monitored. You cannot reply to this email address but if necessary please contact us via our webform quoting any case number we provided.

FlicketyB Wed 18-May-11 17:45:13

I am slow to respond to this thread as my daughter is a sub-titler and I did not want to contribute until I had her views.

She says she is fairly certain that the black box is there to ensure maximum readability, so the subtitles do not disappear into the background and become hard to make out. This is because although the subtitles without the box may be clear enough for someone with good vision, for people with eye conditions like cateracts and macular degeneration it's the subtle changes of colour that can be the first thing to go. A flat colour on black system is going to ensure accessibility for the maximum number of people.

Often when you see the plain white subtitles, they aren't actually plain white, there's a bit of scaling to black at the edges to make them stand out enough to be reasonably accessible to those with eye problems, but even then they can get difficult to read when the programme itself is actually light coloured.

She doesnt know much about the technical side but thinks that some of the systems in use are very limited in what they can send. With digital television, how the subtitles display is actually defined by your digital receiver - some boxes have a much more delicate size and font to the subtitle, so although you'll always get the subtitles displayed in the basic format the broadcaster chooses, if you check subtitles when you're buying, you should be able to choose a styling that is more pleasing to you.

Live subtitling (news, sport etc) is done through voice activated computers. Each live subtitler has to train the software to recognise their voice and pronunciations. Technically this is very sophisticated operation, but even then there are times when the human doing the work gets stuck. The first time my daughter went 'live' as a live subtitler she was rostered to do the local news from Belfast. She did fine with the presenter reading the news, they then cut to an interview with an Ulsterman with a particularly strong accent who spoke through his teeth without moving his mouth. She couldnt work out what he was saying and couldnt lipread to help herself. The item ended up not being subtitled. Remember subtitlers are human.

littlemo Thu 19-May-11 21:01:59

I too often have to use the subtitles for American programmes and agree with all the comments made. A recent funny one (not on an American programme) wrote about Sir Alex Ferguson but called him 'ceramics Ferguson'. Some subtitles are funnier that the programmes.