Creating Described Video for Broadcast Media

Spotlight on Descriptive Video Works

Image: Descriptive Video Studio


Descriptive Video Works, with offices in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and Los Angeles, creates described video for broadcasters including the CBC, TV Ontario (TVO), CTV, and The Discovery Channel, and streaming site Netflix. They also describe live events such as the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Olympics and the Juno Awards. In this radio show, they discuss their process of describing video, and members of the community call in to talk about how described video positively affects their lives.

Illustration of a lit lightbulb

Developing an Understanding

Diane Johnson, the President of Descriptive Video Works in Vancouver, and Shawn Marsolais, the Founder and Executive Director of Blind Beginnings, a non-profit organization that provides services to children, youth, and their families, speak with Gloria Macarenko on CBC Radio’s BC Almanac.

Johnson describes the process her writers use to write the described video script in between dialogue, focusing on brevity so that the descriptions do not interrupt or flow-over the dialogue in a film or television show. Once the writer has written the described video script, they send it to a studio where an actor voices the narration, and then they mix the sound file and send it back to the broadcaster who has hired them.

Marsolais discusses how described video brings meaning to video content, especially during moments where the majority of meaning is being communicated by visual cues, as in montages and cartoons.

Johnson speaks to the importance of casting an appropriate actor to narrate a program. For example, the narration is much different for SpongeBob SquarePants than Downton Abbey. Marsolais highlights that while the narrator should have a tone that matches the emotion in a program, it’s best if the describer’s voice does not overshadow the actors’ voices. They discuss how Descriptive Video Works has integrated the feedback they’ve received from their focus groups about what kind of content audiences want described in a program.

One caller from Vancouver discusses the benefits of described video for her, as someone with a learning disability, and her son, who is on the autism spectrum, as it helps her to follow the plot and her son to understand the emotions that are described in a program, and other callers share their stories about how described video positively affects their lives.

Click on the image below to listen to the complete CBC Radio show.

Silhouette of a person with headphones watching TV
open a new window
illustration of gears in motion


What are some of the positive effects of described video, based on what’s suggested by Descriptive Video Works and callers from the community?

Please fill in the textarea.

Right answer:

It helps bring meaning to videos that have a lot of action.

It clarifies videos where a lot is conveyed visually, like cartoons.

It can help people with learning disabilities follow plotlines.

It clarifies content for sighted children and people who are multi-tasking.