The Americans with Disabilities Act in the US has been a challenge for exhibitors for the past 10 years. The technology to satisfy the law has been proprietary and not particularly cheap, but special interest groups choose to litigate to ensure adoption of it. The problem only grows worse with digital cinema equipment. Digital cinema, by virtue of the DCI specification, is capable of open captions. If an alternative doesn’t exist, and litigation forces exhibitors to utilize open captions on a significant number of screenings, box office will be negatively affected. Thus the interest in closed caption technologies.
While only one type of closed caption solution is shipping today, it is possible to support these with royalty-free non-DCI-compliant interop distributions. As we move towards DCI compliance, and to full SMPTE compliant distributions, the situation can become awkward. Standards for closed caption distribution now exist, and SMPTE also prescribes how to package Hearing Impaired (HI) and Visually Impaired Narrative (VI-N) audio for multiple sound formats. But outside of open subtitling, DCI compliance doesn’t require the accessibility features standardized by SMPTE. If manufacturers only move forward to become DCI compliant, then distributors will be forced to use interop distributions when delivering closed captions.
Moving the industry forward beyond DCI compliance and into SMPTE compliance is a necessary task. Exhibitors need a sense of when standards and closed caption equipment will be implemented for digital cinema. It may be that a formal statement is needed so that exhibitors have something substantive to show litigators when asking for patience on adoption of accessibility in the cinema.
To educate the community and help facilitate goals for implementation of the complete suite of SMPTE packaging standards, NATO has asked Inter-Society Digital Cinema Forum (ISDCF) to set aside a few hours during its next meeting to engage in this topic. The reaction from studios regarding this agenda has been very positive. Certainly, any step that goes beyond DCI compliance must include DCI compliance and thus leads to good results, and from experience, the support within the studios for delivering accessible content is very strong. Hopefully this session will shed some light on the steps needed to bring new packaging tools into use, and to convert servers to the SMPTE format. The next ISDCF meeting is set for June 4.