From occasionally shaky beginnings, the monitoring and control of loudness in television, and now radio, is starting to make itself felt in international broadcasting. Kevin Hilton rounds up the present situation.
Technical standards can take some time to come into force and often rely on the will of regulators or even governments, as well as the users, to implement them. Some countries are more enthusiastic adopters than others, while a few might take advantage of options in the specifications to delay full deployment. The introduction of loudness controls has certainly been staggered around the world, with a global recommendation by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), introduced as BS 1770 in 2006, adapted into more localised standards in different countries and regions. Europe is covered by R128, developed by the EBU (European Broadcasting Union). While other states in Europe – notably France and Germany – set a date and introduced regulations for all broadcasters from that point (2011 and 2012 respectively), others have taken more time to work out exactly what needs to be done.
The UK is one country where the approach has been more gradual. Not that the subject of loudness has not been taken seriously; BBC R&D was looking into monitoring and controlling discrepancies in perceived volume between different types of TV broadcast programming as far back as the 1950s; and in the late 1990s and early 2000s algorithms were developed for the first meters aimed at dealing with the problem.
In 2008 the Broadcast Committee on Advertising Practice (BCAP), part of commercials regulator the Advertising Standards Authority, introduced recommendations for loudness on television advertisements. While the preferred approach was for facilities to use loudness meters working to 1770, there was also the option for material mixed on peak meters to PPM6.
More recently the Digital Production Partnership (DPP) drew up specifications for programme delivery to the main UK broadcasters, including the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky, and BT Sport. R128 was the choice for loudness from the start and while some broadcasters, notably Sky and BT Sport, are using it now, R128 is not yet mandatory. The aim is for that to happen in October this year when broadcasters move fully to file-based operations, or, in the case of the BBC, begin the transition.
“R128 has made a difference but we’re not expecting it all to happen immediately, people need time to move across,” said Kevin Burrows, chair of the DPP technical standards committee and controller of technical broadcast and distribution at C4, following the publication of version 4 of the specs last September. “Part of the problem is that we’re working with new commissions, which conform to R128, and old or archive programmes, which don’t. The problem will reduce over time and R128 will minimise it but there will always be an issue with not knowing what commercial might follow a drama with a wide dynamic range.”
Read the rest in our April digital edition.