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Ben Feggans | SBS (Australia)
Multilingual Loudness management
- Original article first appeared in AP Broadcast
Effective Loudness Management for a Multilingual Broadcaster
By Ben Feggans
Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) is “the voice and vision of multicultural Australia,” founded on the belief that all Australians, regardless of geography, age, cultural background, or language skills, should have access to high-quality, independent, culturally-relevant media. Through SBS Radio, SBS Television, and SBS Online, we tell the stories of humanity in more languages than any other broadcaster in the world; at last count, we were broadcasting in 74 languages on radio, more than 60 on television, and more than 50 online.
Australian broadcasters follow the OP59 Free TV Standard, regulated by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). This standard is based on the ITU-R BS.1770-3 -24 LKFS loudness target. But compliance is not the only driver for effective loudness metering and control, especially for a multilingual operation like SBS. For a large segment of our audience, our radio and television broadcasts are the only ones available in which they can hear their native language; therefore, it’s critical that the dialogue be very clear and tuned to appropriate loudness levels. Also, because we offer such a broad range of content in so many different languages, it’s paramount that each language reflect a consistent audio level.
To address these requirements, it was critical that we adopt the most effective tools on the market for loudness metering and measurement with a system that could integrate well into our Adobe Premiere Pro and Avid Pro Tools editing and mixing workflows. After evaluating several products, we chose NUGEN Audio VisLM – a visual loudness metering plug-in that offers detailed and objective loudness measurement, history, and logging facilities in compliance with ITU, ATSC, and EBU standards. Since we were already mixing to -24 LKFS using the ITU-R BS.1770-3 specifications, VisLM fit easily into our operation.
The software-based VisLM offers a much more cost-effective approach than the standalone AES hardware meters we use in the television studios. With 14 VisLM licenses, we’ve installed the plug-in on every desktop or laptop computer used by our audio producers and post-producers. So far, our users have given VisLM high marks for ease of use, with its clean and simple user interface that tells audio mixers instantly whether loudness levels are within acceptable limits. Most of our producers have a great deal of experience with different loudness meters, and they agree that VisLM is the most simple and elegant solution they’ve encountered.
In addition to simplifying the process of creating consistent audio levels across all online, TV, and radio programs, VisLM has enabled us to enforce delivery standards for outsourced content. For instance, SBS exports a large quantity of content to the U.S., requiring the audio to be in compliance with the CALM Act for loudness. VisLM simplifies this requirement by providing built-in pre-sets that make audio mixing to a specific standard as easy as dialing up the standard on the meter.
At SBS, we’re proud that we made loudness control a priority for our programs before it was mandated by our government. We’re also fairly sure that we’re one of the few radio broadcasters in the world that’s monitoring loudness for our radio programming, for which there are no standards. With VisLM, we have the tool we need to provide our viewers and listeners with the optimal audio experience, regardless of the language they speak.
Ben Feggans is broadcast technician for the Special Broadcasting Service, based in suburban Sydney, Australia.
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