The WGBH National Center for Accessible Media
The Media Access Group at WGBH

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Press Release:

Closed Captions And Descriptive Narration Available For First Time As Part Of Feature Film Presentation

WGBH Brings Innovative Technologies to General Cinema for THE JACKAL

November 21, 1997

This month, for the first time, closed captions and descriptive narration were available in a movie theater during a regular feature film presentation. General Cinema Theatres, Universal Pictures, Digital Theater Systems, and the WGBH Educational Foundation collaborated to make this historic event possible.

The General Cinema Theatre in Sherman Oaks, California, is the first conventional movie theater to install the Rear Window (TM) Captioning System and DVS Theatrical (TM). These innovative technologies--developed at the WGBH Educational Foundation in Boston--enable exhibitors to make films accessible to 34 million deaf, hard-of-hearing, blind, and visually impaired patrons, without interfering with the general audience. These technologies debuted during the November 14-25 screening of the Universal Pictures film, THE JACKAL, which stars Richard Gere and Bruce Willis.

The patented Rear Window Captioning System displays reversed captions on a light-emitting diode (LED) text display (manufactured by Trans-Lux Corporation of Norwalk, Conn.) which is mounted in the rear of a theater. Deaf and hard-of-hearing patrons use transparent acrylic panels attached to their seats to reflect the captions so that they appear superimposed on the movie screen. The reflective panels are portable and adjustable, enabling the caption user to sit anywhere in the theater. The Rear Window System was co-developed by WGBH and Rufus Butler Seder of Boston, Mass.

DVS Theatrical delivers descriptive narration via infrared or FM listening systems, enabling blind and visually impaired moviegoers to hear the descriptions on headsets without disturbing other audience members. The descriptions provide narrated information about key visual elements such as actions, settings, and scene changes, making movies more meaningful to people with vision loss.

These technologies, which were developed as part of WGBH's Motion Picture Access Project, have been available in specialty theaters for several years. Digital Theater Systems (DTS) of Westlake Village, Calif., has now enabled WGBH to bring the technology to conventional movie theaters.

DTS is the world leader in digital sound for feature films, providing multi-channel digital audio on CD-ROM. A special reader attached to the film projector reads a timecode track printed on the film and signals the DTS player to play the audio synchronous to the film. For this project, DTS adapted its technology to include the caption and description tracks on a separate CD-ROM, which plays alongside the other discs in the DTS player. In turn the DTS player sends the captions to the LED display and the descriptions to the infrared or FM emitter.

"This unique project truly exemplifies the flexibility of the DTS format," said Dan Slusser, co-chairman and chief executive officer of DTS. "A film can now be played utilizing digital sound and at the same time deliver closed captions and descriptive narration, and that helps make the movie experience more real and memorable for all patrons. We're proud to contribute to this technological feat."

"Universal Pictures is delighted to be a part of this ground-breaking effort," said Nikki Rocco, president of distribution for Universal Pictures. "There is no substitute for experiencing the magic of Hollywood in a conventional theater, and we look forward to the day when that experience will be accessible to everyone."

Universal Pictures is part of Universal Studios, a unit of the Seagram Company, Ltd., a global beverage and entertainment company.

General Cinema Theatres, a division of GC Companies, Inc., is a leading motion picture exhibitor with 1,120 screens at more than 175 theaters in 24 states. General Cinema hosts more than 60 million customers annually and generates annual revenues in excess of $440 million. The screen at Sherman Oaks where the Rear Window and DVS Theatrical systems have been installed also features THX and digital sound. All screens at Sherman Oaks offer listening devices for hard-of-hearing moviegoers.

"General Cinema Theatres is pleased to participate in this experiment and provide its ongoing support for the Motion Picture Access Project. We believe that this project can help us achieve our mutual goal of ensuring that everyone in this country can enjoy the movies," stated Paul Del Rossi, president of General Cinema Theatres.

WGBH's Motion Picture Access Project has been exploring ways of making movies accessible to deaf and blind audiences since 1992. The project is working to make other captioned and described films available at the Sherman Oaks location. If the experiment is successful, additional installations at other theaters may follow.

"This is an exciting milestone in the project and we are grateful to General Cinema Theatres, Universal Pictures, and DTS for helping to make it possible," said Project Manager Judith Navoy of WGBH. "We look forward to working with all the major studios and theater chains to further increase the accessibility of feature films nationwide."

The Motion Picture Access Project is funded by a grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, a division of the U.S. Department of Education. The research and development is guided by disabled consumers and representatives from the motion picture industry, including the Motion Picture Association of America, the National Association of Theatre Owners, the InterSociety, the International Theatre Equipment Association, Boston Light & Sound, Inc., and Trans-Lux Corporation.

Captioning for THE JACKAL was provided by The Caption Center at WGBH, the world's most experienced captioning agency. The descriptions were created by WGBH's Emmy award-winning Descriptive Video Service®, (DVS®) which pioneered video description for television, home video, large-format films and DVD.

WGBH (www.wgbh.org) serves the greater Boston and New England region through three television stations and one radio station. It is the single largest producer of prime-time programs seen nationally on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), supplies a significant share of public radio programming, and develops new applications in educational technology, interactive multimedia, and access technologies.

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