Most movie goers don’t have to worry about going to see the latest movie in the theatre, but for the hearing or visually impaired, getting the necessary technology to provide you with amplified sound or audio descriptions can be frustrating. Although some solutions exist, it’s usually difficult to get them. And while one theatre may have one device, another may have none at all.
The app, along with a phone could show captions, it could carry audio, multiple languages, scene descriptions, all provided from a central server under the control of the theatre.
So Alex Koren and his co-founder, Braun Shedd, decided to make it happen. They were joined by Paul Cichocki, who worked in post-production at Pixar for 17 years. But it was immediately clear that they couldn’t just jump into a space dominated by established industry companies.
Theatre chains didn’t want to give access to their systems, and studios didn’t want to hand over raw files for testing and because different studios or theatres use different formats or setups , there was no easy one-size-fits-all way to get audio — until it left the system, coming out of the speakers in a waveform. Early attempts to retransmit this resulted in two seconds of latency — unacceptable in a theatre.
Koren and Shedd took the problem head-on, creating a super-low-latency transmission protocol they call Lightspeed Audio Streaming Technology. It transmits sound over Wi-Fi with almost no buffering at all.
The only equipment a theatre needs is a box the size of a large book that plugs into their AV system and it generates the wireless network for the end user. All the user needs is an app, in which they can select their movie and what content they need: scene descriptions for visually impaired, amplified audio and/or subtitles for the hearing impaired, other languages, even sign language.
The theatre would initially pay for the installation of the box (a couple hundred bucks) and then pay per use, almost certainly saving money and time over the alternatives.
The company first partnered with a couple small theatres in the Bay Area. There the developers received feedback and cleared out bugs. People using it definitely like it, Koren said. And through their industry connections, they gained audiences with the major studios and theatre chains. But the big break came when Pixar gave Actiview an opportunity to showcase their tech.
It no doubt made its way through the grapevine that Cichoki was working on Actiview, and Koren told me that a Pixar employee with a personal interest in assisting the visually impaired brought it up internally. After some negotiation, Pixar consented to allow Actiview to support Cars 3 at its debut — at least with amplified audio and scene descriptions.
“If this all goes well, we’ll be able to make a case for more movies. For every download of the app, we make a better case to Hollywood that this is worth it,” said Koren.
This large-scale rollout could be the break Actiview needs both to gain exposure and prove that the system works.
“Movies are just the first place we’re going,” Koren said. “We imagine a world where basketball and baseball games, and live theatre are all accessible like this.”
The strategy is simply to show that yes, in fact, there are millions of visually and hearing impaired people who really want to pay for tickets but aren’t being accommodated. And by making the ability to accommodate them easy and affordable, no one is left out on either side of the bargain.
Part of the plan is to bring the content to the cloud, as well, because Actiview also intends to be an accessibility option for when you’re watching movies and TV at home.
As a final incentive, there are new regulations taking effect in 2018 that introduce more stringent requirements for theatres: they’ll need audio descriptions and closed captioning as well as basic assistive listening apparatus. It just so happens that Actiview provides compliance with those requirements for considerably less than other options on the market — and since it’s a software platform, it can be updated to reflect new regulations or offer new services.
Actiview has already raised $225K from a collection of angel investors in the media and accessibility space, including Mike White, former CEO of DirecTV and San Francisco’s Lighthouse for the Blind. Now the goal is $1.5 million, which will help pay for manufacturing the various pieces — designed internally and ready to build and staffing the company as it grows towards its next challenge.
When you go to an Actiview enabled movie theatre, connect to the Wi-Fi and choose from the available services, including:
- -Audio Description
-Sign Language Interpretation
All of this content will be synced to the movie and streamed right to your device, no other setup required!
If you’d like to use the app hands-free while viewing closed captions, feel free to ask customer service or the ticketing agent for a hands-free Actiview Mount.
This app requires iOS 9.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.