UK Cinema Association Technology Challenge Fund

Published on 14/07/2020

The Technology Challenge Fund was established to explore new ways of delivering ‘closed captions’ only to those who needed them, but potentially for all cinema screenings, massively widening the range of films available to deaf customers, and their ability to enjoy the big screen experience with friends and family.  

Having towards the end of 2019 identified two preferred options for its second (and final) phase of funding – both adapted eyewear solutions, developed by Screen Language and the National Theatre respectively – the Association spent the early months of this year supporting the undertaking of further feasibility tests on the two solutions. 

At that point, a decision was made not to pursue the Screen Language option on the basis that further development would require a great deal of additional work and funding, with little evidence that a solution feasible in a cinema environment could be delivered.

That said, the Association will remain in contact with the company as they develop their concept with separate funding. 

The sole focus of attention going forward therefore became the specially-adapted ‘smart caption’ glasses developed by the National Theatre and already shown to be of proven value in the theatre environment.

With successful testing and configuration of the system to the cinema environment achieved, in January the BFI London Short Film Festival hosted the first UK pilot of the glasses for deaf and hard of hearing audiences. In total, 30 devices were made available for audiences to book and use across a significant number of the festival’s performances. 

A hugely exciting milestone for the Fund, this exercise provided much greater understanding of the operational practicalities of supporting these devices in cinemas, as well as valuable feedback from users. As a result of the latter in particular, issues around the comfort and weight of the glasses were identified.

While the lockdown of the UK sector arising from COVID-19 has unfortunately put a stop to further development and testing, the plan remans as soon as possible to begin that process again, and to begin a discussion with the glasses manufacturer Epson on the potential there might be to simplify the current hardware, making it both more comfortable and affordable.