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Audio Description in Movie Theaters

Introduction and Podcast

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.

Listen to a 2½-minute audio on
Audio Description in Movies,
or listen to the full 24-minute Podcast on
Audio Description:  Where and How?

The Switch to Digital

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, namely AMC and Regal; 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.

Who Decides What Films Will Be Described? 

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!

Release to DVD and Blu-ray Disc

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.

More information on Movies With Audio Description

TIP

When you pay for your movie ticket, ask for an
AUDIO DESCRIPTION headset; but make sure
it is for audio description, not Assisted Listening
Devices for people who are hearing-impaired!

The following listings pertain primarily to the USA and Canada.

Movies and Movie Theaters

The Fidelio System from Doremi Labs

Sony Digital Cinema Entertainment Access

Borrowing Described DVDs

Online Described Movies

Internet and iTunes Based Description

International Movie and DVD Information


Historical Information (no longer updated)

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
Graph of Described vs. Captioned Movies (with data below)
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
DVD
2012 * * 86
2011 139 83 80
2010 117 74 49
2009 119 67 13
2008 104 71 7
2007 109 59 4
2006 102 63 4
2005 96 58 3
2004 76 48 1
2003 67 38 4
2002 40 34 0
2001 17 12 1
* Because there are so many vendors now, we no longer collect this data

For information on DVDs, see our DVDs page