Audio description is increasingly available for first-run movies, and more and more movie theaters are being built or renovated with the necessary equipment to offer the description track to patrons. This page will point you to more information about the process, the movies, and the theaters. Last updated August 2014.
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Audio Description in Movies,
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Audio Description: Where and How?
A few years ago, movie theaters began converting from film projectors to digital, each with a server that processes and distributes the movie data, including audio description tracks. Each month, more and more movie theaters install one of these systems, making the audio description available to people who need it. With digital, everything (movie, multiple sound tracks, and captioning) are all delivered in something called the Digital Cinema Package (DCP), which any company can access through common standards, so the competition for equipment is increasing and the cost of installation is decreasing. One DCP can server multiple screens in a movie house. While the DCP is currently a physical product (a hard-drive), eventually the data will be delivered to movie theaters via satellite.
In movie theaters today, the dominant suppliers for digital equipment are:
A separate Doremi product, CaptiView, is used for closed captioning. Sony has its own system which uses special glasses and earpieces. Typically a theater chain uses one system or the other in all of its cities.
Formerly, WGBH Media Access and DTS Access offered a DVS Theatrical Player for description and captioning. The WGBH system offered closed captioning via a separate system called Rear Window® Captioning (RWC), while the DTS Access system offered open captioning on-screen via a special projector. These systems are being phased out and replaced by digital products not marketed by either company. However, WGBH Media Access, as the dominant provider of movie description tracks (over 1200 so far), uses the term MoPix to cover the creation of the tracks, and they are very much in that business.
There are some real "good guys" in the history of making audio description tracks available, for example, AMC and Regal. Cinemark, the third largest theater chain in the United States, engaged in a process called Structured Negotiations with its blind patrons and the California Council of the Blind in 2012, and now has audio description equipment in every first-run auditorium it operates in the country (press release). But other companies have often resisted offering description and captioning, even when the equipment was readily available to them (through the conversion to digital). Example: Movie Theaters Strongly Oppose Accessibility Bills (May 2013). In part, this resistance is what has triggered the Proposed Amendement to ADA Affecting Movie Theater Accessibility in July 2014.
WGBH Media Access tells us that "All major studios now caption and describe all wide released features and nearly all independent studios caption all releases." Not all of that description makes it to DVD, however; but some studios like Sony, Disney, and Universal have been providing it with almost all of their releases since 2010. It's tough to get the smaller, independent studios to fund description of either movies or DVDs. Currently a few major studios (and some smaller ones) don't provide DVD description either: Anchor Bay Entertainment / Weinstein Co, Millennium Entertainment, Miramax FIlms, and the most important one, Warner Bros. Write them!
So what happens when a described movie ends its run and is released on DVD and Blu-ray discs? Historically, very few described DVDs were released, but that changed dramatically starting in late 2009. Read more about this and how to order DVDs on our DVDs page.
When you pay for your movie ticket, ask
The following listings pertain primarily to the USA and Canada.
The following statistics are primarily from WGBH Media Access, the largest supplier of captioning and description (which they call DVS®, for Descriptive Video Service), though we keep our own count of AD on DVD:
Historical Information Only
NOTE: The red part is not a direct subset of the described first-run movies each year
as many DVDs released with description are from the previous year or are special
packagings (e.g., complete series) of previously released films
|Year||Captioned||Audio Described||AD on