VLV’s Audibility of Speech on Television Project


logo-VLV-244 People with hearing difficulties could soon benefit from adjustments to be made to the sound quality on TV programmes, thanks to research undertaken by Voice of the Listener & Viewer (VLV), the BBC and RNID in 2010. The survey results have shown that with greater awareness and subsequent relatively minor changes in production practices, it should be possible to ensure increased audibility for people, especially those who are hard of hearing, and thus improve their enjoyment of television programmes. VLV undertook the project in response to the frequent and large number of complaints received for many years about inaudibility of speech in television programmes. VLV President Jocelyn Hay said “this is the most common complaint VLV receives and VLV is extremely grateful to all those who have given their expertise to help solve it. We hope that as a result millions of people, currently unable to enjoy television programmes fully, will be able to do so in future. ‘ The VLV research project was initiated and directed by Dick Bates, Peter Menneer and David Walker, all former BBC senior executives, who volunteered their services for the VLV project. Dick Bates said:

quot_op_singleWhen I started this I thought the overwhelming problem was background music, quot_cl_singlebut the research has revealed other problems, most of which could be avoided with a little more care during shooting.

Working with the BBC and RNID, the surveys were undertaken over 2010. The first phase was to establish how many people have problems in hearing the spoken word on television; to what extent such difficulties are related to age – and therefore to increasingly impaired quality of hearing; to identify particular TV programmes that had posed audibility problems to their audiences for subsequent audio analysis by the project’s engineering specialists and to establish the detail of the audibility difficulties that people experienced with these particular programmes. The VLV speech audibility questions were carried on both the BBC’s Pulse online panel with an average reporting sample per day of around 8,000 and in a supplementary paper diary commissioned by VLV for a sample which produced 506 effective diaries from people aged 65 and over, who do not use the internet. 1,000 questionnaires were also completed by members of RNID. The data relates to programmes viewed over the week ending 20 August 2010 on BBC One, Two and Four, Channel 4, Five and ITV. After the initial survey 21 programmes were analysed in detail, establishing that the majority of audibility problems resulted from the way in which sound is captured and that added background music makes audibility even worse. The BBC then took short clips of nine programmes to test – one version as originally made, one with a one point increase in background sound level and one with a one point decrease. People really noticed the difference when the level of background sound was reduced. VLV is delighted that the BBC has been so keen to engage with research on television audibility. Danny Cohen, Controller BBC One, has supported the project and said:

The BBC has listened to its audience and worked hard to understand fully the different issues that viewers have with television sound. I am delighted that the BBC has created a series of comprehensive ‘best-practice’ guidance to support its producers and the wider production community to make clear, well-crafted television sound. I am particularly grateful to the support the Voice of the Listener and Viewer and RNID and its membership has given us to help make this a reality.

This is a major breakthrough, especially for those who are hard of hearing – their enjoyment of watching television programmes will be greatly enhanced. Download the complete document including The Audibility of Speech on Television – Summary of Research Findings


  1. Peter Thomlinson on 21/02/2017 at 18:00

    Another awful technique that has crept in over the last 10 years or more is the sound of the next scene coming in before the current scene has finished. How crazy is that!