Source: UKCA

The UK Cinema Association (UKCA), the body which represents the interests of over 93% of UK cinema operators, has launched a fund to encourage innovations in the area of subtitling for people with hearing loss.

Created in partnership with the charity Action on Hearing Loss, the Technology Challenge Fund will distribute up to £75,000 to innovative projects across two phases.

Some £25,000 is available in the first phase with a £5,000 individual limit. Projects which complete this phase will be eligible for a second round with a £50,000 total and £25,000 per-project limit.

An estimated 11 million people in the UK (about one in six) experience hearing loss, a number expected to rise to 15.6 million (about one in five) by 2035.

The UKCA has tracked the development of ‘closed caption’ subtitle systems, where subtitles are only seen by the individual audience member, via either a personal screen or a pair of specially-adapted glasses.

Slow take-up of these devices has led to the launch of the fund, through which the UKCA ‘wishes to cast the net of potential partners further than just the cinema sector to involve those working in the wider technology and academic sectors’.

Their ‘ideal solution’ must:

  • Allow people to have an integrated cinema experience with the general public i.e. people should be able to view subtitles without disturbing other viewers who do not want to view subtitles
  • Be easy to use for both the venue and user
  • Be financially viable for venues to install and use
  • Be compatible with existing cinema infrastructure

Successful applicants will retain Intellectual Property rights to their product, with Action on Hearing Loss providing support to inventors in finding commercial partners if a suitable product is identified.

The fund is open now to individuals and companies in both the UK and internationally. Applications are made via the UKCA website, with a deadline of September 28.

Phase 1 grants will be awarded in December 2018, with Phase 1 and 2 running throughout 2019 before a showcase event in November of that year.

A panel of cinema and access specialists will consider the applications, with panel members including the BFI’s head of UK audiences Ben Luxford, and head of technical operations at Universal Pictures Demir Yavuz.

Read more: Why does the UK not have an independent cinemas association?