Reaching the invisible consumer: as media fragments, don’t neglect universal access principles

This is a guest post by Chris Howe, managing director, Red Bee Media Australia. 

Despite the level of industry noise around content being the most important aspect to the consumer – ‘content is king’ – there is still too little focus on content produced using universal design guidelines – that is, content that can be accessed by everyone, regardless of age, sex, ethnicity, ability or disability. For brands, it’s never been easier or more desirable to engage with consumers through video, but there is a gaping black hole in many video content strategies: accessibility. This can be more widely achieved by employing captioning and audio description to provide all viewers with the chance to engage with the content.

Most people don’t realise that one in six Australians have a hearing impairment and rely on captions to enjoy their favourite TV programs.  In fact, in a bid to ensure captions are meaningful, the Australia Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) introduced the new Television Captioning Quality Standard in 2013. Every commercial and subscription broadcaster across the country must comply with the Standard, which requires captions to tick all three boxes in terms of being readable, accurate and comprehensible. ACMA also set new captioning targets for commercial and national television broadcasters which require them to caption all programs aired between 6am and midnight from 1 July 2014.

While the media industry is working hard to improve access services and offer 100% captioning on TV programs by next financial year, there is still an ‘accessibility gap’ amongst brands and advertisers. On a very basic level, many brands still fail to caption their TV ads, often due to a lack of awareness or a perception of high costs and complex logistics.

Admittedly it can be a challenge to add captions to ads when they are created at the very last minute, but advertising agencies can do more to raise awareness around this issue and encourage clients to make captions a priority. Also, the cost of captioning a 45-60 second advertisement can be as little as a few hundred dollars, which is a small price to pay to maximise the exposure of an ad.

With the increasing popularity of online videos, more advertisers also need to consider adding captions to their clips to enhance the user experience. By incorporating full transcripts into videos, brands can gain a vast amount of metadata, which makes it much easier for consumers to find content. For example, if a consumer wants to find cookery programmes with recipes using zucchinis, white wine and an Italian theme, they can do so by searching a few keywords. From the perspective of content providers, adding captions to videos also boosts SEO, which in turn makes the website more appealing to advertisers.

Another strategy to consider in a bid to make content more widely accessible is audio description. Audio description is an additional narrative track that fits in between the dialogue and sound effects of a video, filling in the gaps in information and describing visual cues for people with sight problems.

While it is not yet available on Australian TV, audio description increases accessibility by making films and web content available to an audience with visual impairments. This service is even less recognised and used than captioning, yet it also plays a vital role in making media accessible across the population.

Next time you turn on your TV to watch the latest episode of your favourite show, take a moment to observe how often you use visual cues from characters and the scenery to better develop your understanding of the program. Body language, gestures and establishing shots are designed to complement the narrative of a story. The age old adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ couldn’t be truer – even if, in this case, it’s a moving picture!

With the fragmentation of media, many marketers and agencies are increasingly recognising the creative and commercial opportunities that lie in engaging audiences through longer form video content. But at Red Bee Media, the cautionary truth we like to remind ourselves of is that content exists in a vacuum unless there’s an audience watching it. Without incorporating access services into content strategies, marketers are missing out on opportunities to engage with a growing number of potential customers and consumers.

Combining audio description and captioning services will ensure that the full impact of the film, TV or web content can be delivered to the broadest possible audience.