Blue Planet II edited on normal TV set to head off sound complaints

Producers of David Attenborough series say they checked sound quality after complaints about recent BBC shows

The makers of Blue Planet II used a normal television while editing the soundtrack of the programme because of concerns that viewers would complain about the narration not being audible.

The BBC team used a TV rather than a music theatre or studio to review the final mix so they could understand how the natural history programme would sound in a family living room and set the narration, music and sound effects to the appropriate levels.

The BBC has faced a significant number of complaints about sound in its programmes, including viewers saying they cannot hear what is being said in drama programmes and music being too loud.

The broadcaster has revealed it is reviewing the music in the remaining episodes of the BBC1 drama series Howards End after complaints that it was too loud and overpowered the dialogue.

In response to those complaints, the BBC said: “The BBC takes audibility very seriously and the producers thought carefully about the sound and music in advance of transmission. The sound quality and level was carefully checked before the film was shown and it met industry technical standards.

“That said, we take comments from our viewers very seriously and are looking at ways to refine the music for the remaining episodes of Howards End.”

Blue Planet II features music by the composer Hans Zimmer, as well as sound effects added after scenes were filmed.

The BBC has received complaints about the loudness of Zimmer’s score and the added sound effects, but James Honeyborne, the executive producer of Blue Planet II, said the makers of the programme had worked hard to get the right balance.

“There’s a lot going on with narration, with music, with sound, and that’s why you mix it to try to get those levels right and an evenly paced television experience. That takes place in a big music theatre,” he told the Radio Times.

“But what perhaps people don’t know is that we then huddle around the TV in the corner of this huge room, and we sit and we actually listen to the finished film and do the final mix review on a normal television, because it’s all very well doing it in a big music theatre but at the end of the day this is being made for a television audience, and you need to check that you’ve got everything as right as you can. We absolutely try to get the balance right.”

Blue Planet II has been an overwhelming ratings success for the BBC so far. The first episode was the most watched programme of 2017, with 14.1 million people tuning in. Its audience has been larger than those for the rival Sunday night shows Strictly Come Dancing and X Factor, and the programme has been particularly popular with 16- to-34-year-olds.

Honeyborne said: “The original Blue Planet series in 2001 was broadcast immediately after the horror of the Twin Towers and people connected with it because of a sense of despair about the world. Is the same thing going on now?

“I think you’re right that people do like to escape to natural history, and the respect and love for Sir David [Attenborough, the narrator] is still very much there. He is the master storyteller.

“I’m sure there are multiple factors, but at the heart of this I do get a sense, looking at the demographics, that more young people are watching – there’s a key environmental interest by the younger generation coming in to play. It’s interesting that one of the most used words on Twitter and discussions around the first episode was ‘amazed’.”


Graham Ruddick

The GuardianTramp

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