Great drama – but can you hear a single word they are saying?

Study will investigate whether viewers are turned off TV because the dialogue is inaudible

Whether it's the street corner drug-dealing culture of Baltimore, as seen in The Wire, or the Bristol teen life witnessed in episodes of Skins, modern television drama production prides itself on transporting its audience to the very heart of the action. A genre that at first simply introduced a camera to the familiar dramatic procedures of the theatre has evolved with the demand for ever-greater reality, an increasing use of cinema verite, wobbling camera techniques and all-around sound.

The only problem with all this, it seems, is that a sizeable proportion of the audience can no longer hear what's actually being said by the actors.

And the concerns are now so great that Jay Hunt, the controller of BBC1, has agreed to co-operate with a major independent study that will attempt to evaluate how many people find it difficult to discern the basic dialogue in programmes shown on British television.

"There are particular issues with background music that makes certain programmes difficult for older viewers," said Hunt. "It's massively important to that audience and is something we are taking seriously. It's clearly not just a few people that struggle with this, it's a big issue and what the BBC should be doing is listening to audiences."

Although The Wire, which is shown on BBC2, and other productions by the writing team of David Simon and Ed Burns, such as the Iraq war series Generation Kill, have been acclaimed by critics and held up as a model for aspiring programme makers, the lifelike ambient audio makes it hard for some viewers to hear what all the fuss is about.

Others have problems with programmes which deploy music heavily to help give a sense of time to the action, such as the 1950s-based Mad Men, or the BBC's Ashes To Ashes, which is based in the early 1980s and features songs from the likes of The Stranglers, Ultravox and Visage.

The problem does not only relate to television. The increasing use of ambient sound in cinemas, a featurewidely used as a marketing tool, is also ruining the experience for some patrons. John Cleese said recently that he stopped going to the cinema because sound editors were giving too much prominence to sound effects.

"No older person goes (to the movies) any more," he complained. "It's harder for me to hear the dialogue than it was 20 or 30 years ago. Your hearing starts to go in your early 30s and it's hard to pick out the voices from the ambient sound. The problem is that when they [sound editors] mix movies now, they forget that the audiences have not heard the dialogue. They've all heard the dialogue hundreds of times and take it for granted."

Hunt became aware of the sound issue after it was brought to her attention at a conference of Voice of the Listener & Viewer (VLV) last year. Richard Lindley, the chairman of the VLV and a former current affairs presenter on Panorama and at ITN, said the research would establish whether problems with background noise were also being experienced by younger viewers.

"It really does go right across a range of programmes," he said. "Sometimes the background music is so loud that it drowns out what is being said. At other times it's just that the background noise is obtrusive. There is a problem here because producers want things to be realistic. It's quite difficult to say what is acceptable and what isn't; it does need more research. That's why we are so happy Jay Hunt has taken this up."

Lindley says of The Wire: "It's the kind of programme that makes us stop when we say British broadcasting is the best in the world and makes us think that, well, there are one or two other good things. But a lot of people have difficulty in following it because they can't always hear what's being said."

In his view there has been a profound change of production values in recent decades as the demand for realism has increased. "There's a danger that naturalistic filming and production will ignore the fact that important bits of dialogue are going to get lost or not have the impact they should, so that people will not always appreciate the production as they would want to."

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there