Adrian Fox has recently been promoted to Director of Operations at VITAC. It’s a role that will see him take the lead across a variety of areas, including transcription, media, and access services, but one of his main focus points will be to develop and grow the company’s audio description department. We sat down with Adrian to find out more about his plans for VITAC’s audio description services in 2024.
How did you end up overseeing audio description at VITAC?
I joined Take 1 (now VITAC) almost 18 years ago as a courier – I was the guy who jumped on a train to pick up VHS tapes in London and bring them back to the head office in Kent where I’d digitize and burn the content onto discs to deliver to our transcribers. With the transition to digital delivery, I started working in the office more and, eventually, I moved into the technical side of the business.
As I progressed from courier to media services to technical support manager, I learned a massive amount about scripts and the software we used and started working with the tech team to develop our own tools to meet our specific needs. In addition to building a new service desk, we created our own transcription software, and I became responsible for technical integration across the entire business. This role required a detailed understanding of all our services and technologies so, when we launched our audio description service, I underwent training with the AD team to learn how to script descriptions and how to use the AD software.
When Take 1 was acquired by Verbit, I was promoted to head of operations and was tasked with determining what systems and technology could be migrated and what needed further development. As Director of Operations, I am now also responsible for leading the transcription, media services, and audio description teams, with a specific goal to grow the AD department.
Why is 2024 the right time to grow VITAC’s audio description department?
As Take 1, we had the skills and expertise in producing audio descriptions and had started to build a healthy client base for this service. VITAC, on the other hand, already had a substantial customer base that needed both captioning and audio descriptions for their content. Now that Take 1 has been acquired by Verbit and become part of VITAC, it makes sense for us to grow our AD team and capabilities to meet this combined demand. Another of our sister companies under the Verbit brand, AST, also has clients that need extended descriptions for educational content, and we’ve begun working with them to provide scripting for their descriptions as well.
We’re also seeing an international trend towards legislation that increases accessible content quotas. As of July 2023, linear pay TV networks in Spain must now provide five hours of audio description a week and, in the US, the proposed Communications, Video, and Technology Accessibility (CVTA) Act would require audio description for almost all television programming and extend the rules to include all streaming content. These changes will dramatically increase the demand for both captioning and audio description services in the coming years.
How are you leveraging new technologies and AI to improve your audio description service?
The human value in audio description is all in the scripting layer, and we use technology to make our scripting workflows efficient.
The first step in creating audio descriptions for media is finding the gaps – you can’t write audio description when someone is speaking because you won’t be able to hear what that person is saying. To speed this process up, we’ve developed a program that creates a ‘gap map’ – a list of all the gaps in the audio that meet certain technical requirements for audio description. The audio describer can then analyze these gaps to decide if they’re appropriate for descriptions – some gaps may be needed to create tension, to provide space for a swell of music or for other dramatic or storytelling effects – so even though a computer has identified a gap you still need a human pair of ears to verify that there’s value to adding a description in that gap. And then you need a human to sit down, watch the material, analyze it, and write a useful, catchy, and informative audio description.
When it comes to producing the actual audio descriptions, we let our clients choose between human and synthesized voices and our tech team is building a tool that will allow us to automate each phase of the process. This will mean we can use human and AI elements in almost any combination that our customers choose to meet their creative and budget requirements.