TV Subtitling Explained – Interview With RTE

A blog by @mircwalsh

TV Subtitling Explained – Interview With RTE

October 1, 2009

RTE, Ireland’s national TV broadcaster, aims to subtitle all its shows by 2014, with the help of digital tools. For now, here’s an outline of the work involved, as discovered by Miriam Walsh, IDK’s journalist intern.

It may be hard to believe – but subtitles don’t just magically pop up on TV screens as soon as 888 is pressed on the remote. Meeting with Anne Barry, who adds subtitles to RTE shows, I learned how one half-hour TV show can sometimes take over half a day to add subtitles to.

Learning about the process and the different kinds of subtitling, I got an insight into how the team determines which shows are subtitled and which are not. Working backward through the day, RTE’s main focus is on prime time TV, which airs from 6pm until 12am at night. At this time shows such as RTE News and Weather, Home and Away and CSI are all subtitled.

For children, some early evening TV shows including Kazoo have subtitles, as does morning show Balamory. Because the process is so costly, Anne and the small team of four must ask if it is worth their time and the expense of subtitling shows such as Arthur, which appears at 6.45 in the morning.

The questions they have to ask are, will kids be up at that hour? And will those kids be of reading age? There is little point providing subtitles for a sleeping audience or those too young to read them.

Sometimes it is not possible to get subtitles for a TV show and there is little that RTE can do about this. They do however try to buy in shows that have subtitles or shows that can be subtitled over those which cannot. The Big Big movie on a Saturday night is always given priority, as are movies shown during school holidays and mid-term breaks.

The summer is a slower period for RTE with more reruns being shown for adults. This gives the team more time and money to spend on children’s TV shows and so priority is given to these at this time.

In terms of the subtitling of childrens’ TV shows, Anne thinks RTE has done as much as they can to make this possible. With connections in Disney, Anne stresses that she is always searching for subtitled shows. RTE’s new childrens’ shows include Dex Hamilton, which will be shown from October.

It is RTE’s aim to have 100% of TV shows subtitled by 2014. Anne believes this process will be easier in future when the system is digitised. RTE’s online TV player currently does not support subtitles, but will do in future.