Austrian Bundesliga League Adds Commentary for Visually Impaired

Coverage of Austrian Bundesliga Premier League football has a new dimension this season, with specially prepared commentary for visually impaired fans. Public broadcaster ORF and technology consultancy Datamatix Datensysteme are working together to provide detailed audio descriptions of games for TV, the Internet, and localised broadcasts over VHF in the stadiums. The service was extended to Formula 1 for the first time on Aug. 27 at the Grand Prix in Spa, Belgium.

The roots of Bundesliga ON EAR go back to the UEFA Euro 2008 football championship, held in Austria and Switzerland. Football governing body FIFA provided funding to run four VHF stereo transmitters at the main Austrian stadia used during the tournament.

After Euro 2008 ended, these were taken over by the Austrian Football League (OFB), which co-sponsors Bundesliga ON EAR. In October 2009, the international match between Austria and Lithuania was the first game to be broadcast with audio description available as an alternative TV audio channel, on the Internet, and at the stadium in Innsbruck. Austria, over radio signals.

Audio description for satellite, cable, and digital terrestrial TV is available by selecting the Audio Option on set-top boxes. ORF broadcasts three audio channels in the digital-TV data stream: main commentary in both stereo and Dolby 5.1 and audio description, also stereo. Audio for the Internet is streamed and delivered using the BARIX Instreamer 100. The MP3 stream is distributed from a Shoutcast Internet radio server.

Fans going to matches take their own radios and earpieces or headsets.

“We decided this is the best way to do it,” says Michael Kastelic, chief executive of Datamatix Datensysteme, “because handling and maintenance of rental equipment is very time-consuming. This works fine, and everybody is happy with the situation.”

The commentary itself is far more detailed than that used for standard broadcasts. It is delivered by commentators who have undergone speech training and have some experience in working with visually impaired people. Kastelic describes the commentary as like “an old-fashioned radio transmission,” with in-depth information on the geography of the field. “We add details like ‘Maradona is wearing a big golden necklace with a cross’ and ‘The cooling spray for pain relief produces a big white cloud’,” he says.

Knowing what the eccentric manager of the Argentine football team was wearing was a factor this year, when the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa became the first to feature audio description.

Commentators watched TV coverage on monitors at an ORF studio in Vienna, which Kastelic acknowledges was not as good as if they had been in the stadium but saved a lot of money. “Nevertheless,” he adds, “the feedback about our work at the World Cup was overwhelming.” For copyright reasons, the service was not available over the Internet.

During Bundesliga games, audio-description commentators sit in the stands at the grounds, using equipment provided in flight-cased flyaways. These are based on Lawo Crystal digital consoles, with Sound Devices 302 field mixers as backup. Kastelic says he is considering investing in a small audio OB truck for the future.

The commentary is sent from the stadium to ORF OB vehicles, which are equipped with Lawo mc²56 desks. This is then carried to the broadcaster’s master-control room in Kueniglberg, Austria, which is used exclusively for sport and features a mc²90 console.

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