In the first of a new series of interviews with people from across the Red Bee Media business, we get up close and personal with the talented people that help to make TV happen behind the scenes.
Explain your role — what do you do?
I work in the Presales area of Red Bee Media, with responsibility for global engagement and technical and solution sales support for Access Services. The Presales team provide the expertise necessary for Red Bee Media to be able to sell effectively. We are also responsible for making sure we have a market-led view, understanding what our customers need and ensuring that information gets to those who design our products, platforms and services. In Presales, we interface daily with all the other parts of the business and with other external stakeholders like regulators, lobby groups or other audience representatives.
How did you get into your role? What did you do beforehand?
Previously, I was Head of Operations for Access Services in Europe, with responsibility for our operations in France, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands. With teams in each country and a cross-Europe support team, we were responsible for everything to do with service delivery, production and technology support for our access services operations.
I’ve been a bit of a subtitling geek for most of my working life. Subtitling (and/or captioning, depending on where you’re from) was actually my dream job, believe it or not. I did my MA thesis on “Subtitling taboo language in the films of Bigas Luna”, which was basically just an excuse to perfect my multilingual swearing. After I finished university, I went to live in Barcelona and did a TEFL. There, I went for an audition for English native speakers which turned out to be for dubbing cartoons, but they apparently didn’t have any need for cartoon characters who talked like they were straight out of Shameless (I’m from the North of England). As luck would have it though, they passed on my CV to someone who was looking for an English captioner and so I landed my first proper job, producing English captions for the entire Hitchcock collection. This was around the time of the birth of DVD and a boom time for subtitling companies everywhere. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. But if you’re a subtitling or captioning geek, there really is only one company you really want to work for. I joined Red Bee Media (which was acquired by Ericsson in 2014) in 2007 to help launch access services in Spain, and the rest is history.
The Access Services industry has undergone huge transformation over the last decade. What do you think has been the biggest/important/dramatic transformation of all and why?
The most important development in captioning was respeaking, the use of speech recognition to produce live captions, which was pioneered by Red Bee Media (then BBC Broadcast) in 2001. Without this, it would’ve been impossible to achieve 100% captioning on the BBC or the high volumes of captions currently available on television in many European countries. Use of speech recognition for respeaking was the start of the ongoing transformation of our industry, and recent improvements in automatic speech technologies due to deep learning approaches means they will continue to radically transform how we produce access services. The other important transformation is the one beginning right now. Finally, people are beginning to understand that captions are metadata – timed-text transcripts of content – and as such are incredibly valuable. I truly believe that this will transform how content owners think about captions, and that in the future, no one will dream of creating any kind of audiovisual content without a full and accurate timed-transcript. Quality captioning on all content will be the long-awaited by-product of this revolution and in time, render regulatory requirements unnecessary.
What do you see are the main opportunities and challenges for Access Services?
Although regulatory requirements for Access Services vary by country, our challenge is the same everywhere. Our challenge is threefold; we need to continue improving quality, we need to get faster and cheaper, and we need to do much, much more. To that end, we’re working on improving latency and accuracy of live captioning, safeguarding quality, integrating ASR and other automation, and working with our clients to make sure they can harness the full value of the access services we provide.
What’s been your personal highlight in Access Services? And any lowlights?
When you start off thinking you got your dream job, it was only going to get worse, let’s face it. Spending a couple of months subtitling the entire Twin Peaks series in Spanish came a close second though. Also, producing the first ever commercially available audio described film in Spain. But the biggest sense of achievement has always come with the launch of live captioning services in new countries.
What’s the most frustrating thing about your role and what do you like most about it?
I think the most frustrating thing about my job is the fact that when it comes to live captioning, the state of the art is still imperfect. Our vision and the focus for our research and development is to be able to deliver perfectly accurate real-time captions at zero latency, but right now that is simply not possible. What is particularly frustrating can be the type of articles in the general press that pick up on amusing speech recognition errors, the implication being that perfection would be possible if we just all tried a little bit harder. Knowing how hard-working and committed our captioners are, that can be disheartening at times. What I like most about my job is the chance it gives me to work alongside people with many different cultures and approaches, but who all share the same goal.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
Mostly, I do the same things I’ve done all my life; I read, watch films, listen to music… my life outside work sounds like the bottom of a particularly boring CV. I did manage to swap northern England for Sitges though, which is a seaside town just down the coast from Barcelona, so when I’m not at work, I’ll most often be found trudging (happily) over pebbles and sand.
Diana Sanchez, Global Engagement Manager, Access Services