SEVEN out of 10 adults have trouble hearing the TV clearly, a new study shows.
And BBC bosses are so concerned at the findings they have launched an industry-wide training initiative to address the problem.
The first study into speech intelligibility on TV revealed that 71% of UK adults cannot always hear clearly what is being said.
The research comprised two studies run in tandem – the first co-funded by Danish hearing aid manufacturer Widex and Channel 4, and the second by the BBC.
The study was carried out after complaints to the pressure group Voice of the Listener & Viewer that intrusive background music was obscuring the speech of actors, impairing intelligibility and understanding.
Eight thousand members of the BBC Pulse adult online panel, and 508 non-internet users aged over 65s took part.
Of the online adults surveyed, 70% recorded problems (59% occasionally, 11% always or often) hearing what was being said. For the over 65s age group that rose to 76% (occasionally 59%, always/often 17%).
“This is a worryingly large number of people whose enjoyment of TV programmes is being diminished by not being able to properly hear what is being said,” said Widex hearing health expert Gary Holland.
However, the biggest surprise revealed by the Widex/C4 Study was that the issue of poor speech intelligibility had much more to do with technical issues during a programme’s recording than with the subsequent overlaying of a soundtrack.
Detailed analysis of 22 programmes identified as causing difficulties revealed that the majority of audibility problems resulted from the method by which speech is recorded. Adding background music made the audibility worse.
Now the BBC is making a series of training modules, based on the findings, available to the whole broadcasting industry.
They will also be used in college courses including the National Film and TV School.
Mr Holland added: “Being able to hear clearly what people say is a pre-requisite of enjoying and sustaining social interaction. This includes being able to hear the spoken word on TV. Broadcasters and programme-makers have got to get their act together to resolve a significant problem.
“The BBC should be congratulated for the speed with which it has taken on board the findings and the initiative it has launched.”
Other key findings include:
62% of over 65s from the Widex/Channel 4 survey describe the use of background music as reducing their enjoyment of a programme.
Of those over 65s with poor or very poor hearing 99% have difficulties hearing speech clearly on TV even though 61% use hearing aids.
As many as 1 programme in 5 watched by those with poor/very poor hearing presented them with spoken word problems.
The full report can be found on the Widex website: http://www.widex.co.uk