Guest blog post: A view on cinema subtitling technology

I received the following comments from a UK-based reader which they requested be published on this blog anonymously. It concerns subtitling and captioning technology that is currently already in use in cinemas in countries outside the UK. To be clear, there currently is no official word as to whether these personal technology solutions will be integrated into UK cinemas. I am hopeful that the CEA will publish results of the trials carried out in March very soon. For now here is the feedback I received on this topic. What are your thoughts?

I would like to argue whether personal subtitling devices in cinema is better than nothing and convenient so one can go to the cinema at anytime without disturbing others, but is this the only solution?

I feel in this case, deaf people are being treated as a second class citizen, make do with second best access provisions to please the majority without gathering real evidence. Even though the feedback have been negative in other countries but yet the cinema industry still pushes ahead for personal subtitling devices despite the protest/resistance from many deaf people who insists that on-screen subtitles is the only and best way forward.

A friend of mine was there at the event where people tried out one device while watching a film (there were 3 different devices being tested) After watching the film with subtitles glasses for 15mins, my friend developed a headache from switching visions reading the subtitles on the glasses and watching the films. It made me realised that it is very unfair to expect D/deaf, deafened and hard of hearing people have to sacrifice their enjoyment for the benefit of the others. They pay tickets like everyone else. It does feel that the cinema industry is going back to the dark ages and ghettoising deaf people by introducing personal substandard experience for deaf people using personal devices. Also the way the experiment was carried out was rather biased and cleverly controlled.

The participants did not get the chance to try all the equipment to give a fairer assessment of which was the best devices and neither the right questions asked, i.e. how much of the film visual elements was missed when reading the subtitles on the personal devices as when my friend left the room due to the headache, they went to another screen where the same film with on-screen subtitles was being played but started 10 mins later than the other screens with different devices and my friend realised how much visual information they were missing when using the personal devices in comparison to on-screen subtitles. And strangely enough, my friend’s headache eased after a few minute of reading the on-screen subtitles.

That made me think, whether there could be another strategy. i.e. have designated screen at a multiplex for subtitled films on. So different films are shown at different times of the day in the week, so the trust is built between the deaf audience and the cinema and the attendance will increase because of the reliability/availability of subtitled screenings.

I don’t see why this can’t work as after all cinemas never complain if there are under 5 hearing people in the cinema when the film is not popular or day time showing. In fact when you come to think about it, have there been any records of complaints from hearing people in relation to subtitles films? Why hasn’t the cinemas tried to screen a film with subtitles so everyone can go and watch it together instead of having two screens of the same film shown at the same time to make it more cost-effective.

I think not enough care and thought has been put into this to change the attitudes. Instead they are spending millions to develop new devices which will also cost millions to install and still leave deaf customers with an unsatisfactory experience. With personal devices, it means that many people who are losing their hearing will still struggle to enjoy cinema experience because it is hidden and you have to be in the know about personal devices to use it whereas on-screen subtitles captures the recent deafened or hard of hearing people and enables them to come to terms with their hearing loss much quicker especially if it is visible and widely accepted.

That is just my two pence worth.