Videoplayer on svtplay.se with a tooltip showing the new function Tydligare tal (Clear Speech in English)

SVT proudly presents… The Sound of Silence!

Erik Hedin
Oct 6, 2020 · 4 min read

Imagine I told you about this instead. And played drums at the same time. Annoying? Probably. What would you do?

Maybe you would ask me TO RAISE MY VOICE AND SHOUT. But that would probably be even more annoying. So maybe you would just leave, missing my message.

This is the reality for 1.5 million Swedes and billions of people around the world. They all have one thing in common that you will also get, eventually. Hearing difficulties. Or bad speakers.

If there is noise, people with hearing difficulties won’t get what actors, speakers and reporters are saying. And there is. Often as music in the background. But we want to use music in our tv productions. So what to do? Keep on annoying people?

Yes, unfortunately we have done that. Even though this has been, and still is, the biggest issue our viewers are complaining about.

But now we finally have come up with a solution. *Drum roll*

World Premiere

A button! We call it Tydligare tal, or Clear Speech in English. We could have called it something else. Maybe The Understanding Button, since if you don’t hear what people are saying you won’t understand it, right? But when we asked experts, real users in the main target group, they all voted for Tydligare tal.

And now we have implemented it on our web platform for SVT Play, one of Sweden’s biggest streaming services. So far we have only tested it on a few titles, but the response is so overwhelmingly positive that we now are working on automation to offer Tydligare tal in more of our content on svtplay.se. Hopefully, we will also manage to implement it in our native apps for TV and mobile.

Since we started to test it “live” we have had many positive and surprised reactions not only from people with hearing impairments. Some have discovered how much sound and music there actually is in many productions. And others have realised that Tydligare tal can be useful for people that sometimes hear too well: “Now we can watch tv when our baby son is asleep, without keeping the volyme off!”.

How does it work? And what about subtitles?

Well, here is the recipe for Tydligare tal: First you take a multiple sound format like 3.0 or 5.1. The dialogue is almost always in the centre channel so therefore you raise that one and lower the others a little bit. Then you code and publish. And of course you also offer the original sound mix for people who like drums. Tadaa!

And of course again, Tydligare tal is not a replacement for written subtitles. In SVT Play we subtitle all content and will keep on doing so, with or without Tydligare tal.

Teamwork with users from Swedish Association of Hard of Hearing People
Teamwork with users from Swedish Association of Hard of Hearing People. Photo: SVT

Magic happens when we work together

How come we finally did it? The answer is timing and, most of all, collaboration. In a big organisation like SVT cooperation between people in different departments is often a challenge. But if there is a will there is often a way. At SVT Interactive we have this thing called “Tech Sprint” twice a year when anyone at SVT can pitch a tech idea and put together a team to work on it for two weeks.

Last autumn I had just got my job as Digital Accessibility Lead and the Video Player Team had recently released a feature for multiple sound channels. I simply asked if anyone wanted to try to solve the old noise problem and a whole bunch of colleagues with different skills, from different parts of the company, raised their hands and said “Yes, let’s do it!”. So we put a Tech Sprint Team together and someone came up with the idea to use the multichannel sound solution.

We asked users from the Swedish Association of Hard of Hearing People (Hörselskadades Riksförbund) to join us and they did, actually on the same day(!). Then we worked and learned a lot for two intense weeks and could finally demo a prototype for Tydligare tal.

After that, the Video Player Team has kept on collaborating with the Video Coding Team and the Sound Department and The Legal Department and The Communication Department and the manager who is in charge of sound quality in all SVT’s TV-productions. And of course the users.

For example we recently made a user survey that showed wildly positive results. Everyone of the 68 participants thought that the new sound worked much better and we reached a 9.3 score out of 10 on the question “Would you use Tydligare tal if the choice was available on all programs?”

Right now, Tydligare tal is available for two SVT shows. One of them is Sommaren 85 and until March 13th 2021 you can watch all episodes with Tydligare tal: https://www.svtplay.se/video/28139744/sommaren-85

Before that we will hopefully offer many more titles, in different genres.

Please enjoy the silence and feel free to steal the idea to make the world a little bit more understandable. :)

Icon for Tydligare tal (work in progress) showing a hand behind an ear.
Work in progress: icon for Tydligare tal (Clear Speech)

PS. Right now we have no official icon for Tydligare tal, but we are working on it. The one above is the favourite of both our designers and our test users right now. DS.

The SVT Tech Blog

SVT is Swedens public service broadcaster.