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May 5, 2005

WGBH and Stevie Wonder Create Groundbreaking Music Video Described for Visually Impaired Listeners

"So What the Fuss" Described Video from New Stevie Wonder CD A Time to Love


WGBH Boston, Universal/Motown Records, and musician Stevie Wonder are making music history by implementing a landmark music video innovation for his new song, "So What The Fuss." For the first time in music history, a video will contain a second, descriptive audio track, recorded by hip-hop star Busta Rhymes and written by WGBH's Media Access Group, to be made accessible to people who are blind or have low vision. Two versions of the video will be released. The first will be a traditional music video, serviced to music channels, and the second version will employ WGBH's Descriptive Video ServiceĀ® (DVS), which airs on all SAP-accessible television channels.

Video description conveys the key visual aspects of a film or television program-- and now a music video-- by describing scenery, facial expressions and costumes during natural pauses in dialogue, to help viewers better understand the story. The Media Access Group at WGBH provides video description on a variety of programs broadcast on PBS, as well as on selected programs on other television networks. WGBH also provides description and closed-captioning services for films and DVDs through its Motion Picture Access System, or MoPix.

On Monday, May 9, in Los Angeles, Stevie Wonder will present both versions of the video, directed by Paul Hunter (Snoop Dogg, Will Smith) and allow his fans to experience the video description process for themselves. "Until now, music videos have been very one- dimensional for the sight-impaired," said Wonder. "Now all music video fans will be able to apply their vision to my video thanks to Busta's narration. For me, the entire concept is indicative of what happens when you go beyond the status quo and open yourself up to what's possible, which mirrors some of the themes I try to touch on in A Time To Love."

Linda Idoni, West Coast Director of Operations for the WGBH's Media Access Group, which pioneered the video description technology and wrote the narration for the video, said that Wonder's interest in video description enhances awareness about the technical capabilities now available to the visually impaired. "Until now, a visually impaired music fan would be missing out on key elements of music videos. For Stevie Wonder to embrace the description process enables a lot of passionate music fans to enjoy the song in a whole other medium."

Wonder, a longtime fan of the charismatic Busta Rhymes, enlisted the hip-hop star to perform the video narration in Wonder's L.A. recording studio. According to sources who attended the session, Rhymes infused the audio description of the music clip with characteristic flair, more than adequately describing the raucous scenario that erupts in the clip for "So What The Fuss," set in an apartment and surrounding neighborhood where Wonder and company's infectious performance of the song takes place.

"Stevie Wonder is an American icon," said Rhymes. "Without him, most of us never would have picked up a microphone. Only Stevie could come up with a way to let fans that have never seen a video take part in the whole vibe. It was a great project to work on from start to finish."

WGBH has long been a leader in the development of audio description for television and film. According to Idoni, 36 million Americans with disabilities rely on the Media Access Group's efforts to make media and technology more accessible.

The release of the described video coincides with the introduction of federal legislation that would require television broadcasters, during at least 50 hours of their prime time or children's programming every quarter, to insert verbal descriptions of actions or settings not contained in the normal audio track of a program. The Television Information - Enhancement for the Visually Impaired (TIVI) Act, sponsored by Senator John McCain (R-AZ) in the Senate and Representative Edward Markey (D-MA) in the House, would reinstate the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) rules on video description and authorize the FCC to make additional changes to its video description rules.


WGBH's work on talking menus grows out of three decades of experience pioneering and furthering access solutions to mass media for people with sensory disabilities. WGBH developed captioning for television in the early 70s, brought audio description (which describes on-screen action, settings, costumes and character expressions during pauses in dialogue) to television and videos in the late '80s. Throughout the 90s, these services were applied and integrated into other forms of mass media, including movie theaters (via WGBH's "MoPix" technology and service), Web sites (via WGBH's MAGpie, a free software tool that enables do-it-yourself captioning and description for digitized media) and classrooms (through projects which utilize captioning and description to increase literacy levels and foster inclusiveness for all students). Today, all of WGBH's access initiatives are gathered in one division, the Media Access Group at WGBH.

About the Media Access Group

The Media Access Group at WGBH is a nonprofit service with offices in Boston and Los Angeles. The Group includes DVS, which has made television, film and video more enjoyable to audiences who are blind or visually impaired since 1990, and The Caption Center-- the world's first captioning agency-- which has made audiovisual media accessible to audiences who are deaf or hard-of-hearing since 1972. The third branch of the Media Access Group, the CPB/WGBH National Center for Accessible Media, is a research, development and advocacy entity that works to make existing and emerging technologies accessible to all audiences. Members of the Group's collective staff represent the leading resources and experts in their fields. For more information about access services, visit the Media Access Group Web site or call 617-300-3600 (voice and TTY).

About WGBH

WGBH informs, inspires, and entertains millions of people throughout New England. Boston's last remaining independent TV station, WGBH is the leading producer PBS prime-time programs and online content, a major producer for public radio, and a pioneer in educational multimedia and services that make media accessible for people with disabilities.

Contact

Mary Watkins, Media Access Group at WGBH
mary_watkins@wgbh.org
617.300.3700 voice/fax
617.300.2489 TTY