Discovery's Deadliest Catch Customer Story


Deadliest Catch

In recent years, the concept of how to best employ dialogue normalization within the broadcast content creation and delivery chain has shifted. Initially, the idea was simply to include dialogue normalization (dialnorm) values within program metadata (and ultimately the encoded bitstream sent to consumers), which would then allow broadcasters to know how loud the dialogue was mixed within their various programs and adjust the overall level accordingly.

Dolby’s flagship hardware loudness-level analysis and management tool, the LM100 Broadcast Loudness Meter, was released in 2003. The Dolby® LM100 is a hardware product designed to be used by all types of broadcasters and operators as well as postproduction facilities. Cable head-ends, for instance, manage program content coming in from a variety of sources, and part of their QC work flow is to check the audio of incoming programs (and among various channels) within their service for loudness variations and other problems. The LM100 can be used by the head-end to verify the loudness level of incoming audio and its agreement with metadata carried in the bitstream as part of this process.

Now, however, broadcasters and operators are essentially becoming more proactive with the loudness levels of programs, and are acting to introduce it earlier in the production process, at the time of content creation. In fact, many networks now specify that the dialnorm metadata value must match the long-term loudness of dialogue in the incoming programming. Rather than simply maintaining information about dialogue level within prerecorded content, Dolby’s loudness measurement tools are now seeing increasingly widespread use at the beginning of the mix process, adjusting the dialogue loudness to comply with network specifications.

This method is preferable to networks in that they can maintain their own production practices. It also ensures the dialnorm metadata within their content is correct, leading to greater viewer satisfaction. During the design phase for the Dolby Media Meter, the focus was to adapt the latest loudness measurement technology used in the Dolby DP600, and release it as a stand-alone software plug-in, to perform either real-time or file-based loudness measurement and logging. And as a software plug-in, it can be easily integrated into production and postproduction environments, and with various audio workstations.

Bob Bronow and Max Post

Bob Bronow at Max Post
Bob Bronow, Sound Designer and
Rerecording Mixer at Max Post

Max Post Logo

The Dolby Media Meter has become a popular tool for postproduction houses and others who prepare programming for broadcast. One such user is Bob Bronow, who is a Sound Designer and Rerecording Mixer at Max Post in Burbank, California. Max Post features multiple audio and video edit suites and has prepared audio for shows such as Ax Men, Ice Road Truckers (both of which air on the History Channel), and others.

Bronow, who recently finished mixing the current season of Ax Men, has also worked on audio for the show 1000 Ways to Die on Spike as well as The Colony for the Discovery Channel. He’s also mixed the popular Discovery show Deadliest Catch since its inception. (The show is currently in its fifth season of production.) He has received five Emmy® Award nominations and won a Cinema Audio Society award for sound mixing on Deadliest Catch. We recently spoke with Bronow, and he explained how the Dolby Media Meter software has contributed to his work on the show.

Collecting Audio for Deadliest Catch

"First, there are no production sound mixers on the boats; there's not enough room, it's way too dangerous, nobody could be on an icy deck of these crab fishing boats in 30-foot swells in the Bering Sea holding a boom mic," says Bronow. "The boats are so small on the inside that some of our camera guys have actually had to sleep in pantries, and on the floor. There's just no extra room, so everything is captured with lav, camera mic, or a fixed microphone on deck.

"In addition, some of the deck-mounted cameras are what we call ‘dumb’ cameras, in that they don't have audio capability. If one of those happens to be the only camera that catches a shot that will be used in an episode, I will need to rebuild the audio for the scene. And I really like to stick to the actual sounds that come from the boat. Because of that, I try to get the camera guys, who have Sennheiser 416 shotgun mics, to go and collect extra sound for me when they can find the time. I now have a huge library of sounds that I've culled over the last five years. I just want to keep it as authentic as possible for when I have to build backgrounds."

Meeting Discovery Channel Requirements

Deadliest Catch 1
Digidesign Pro Tools and Dolby
Media Meter RTAS Real-Time

The Discovery Channel requires infinite dialnorm values in the range of –26 to –28 dB, with nothing short-term going over –22 dB. According to Bronow, these predefined network requirements have been beneficial in part because it removes the tendency to produce overly loud and compressed mixes. "Since the networks started adopting the use of fixed dialogue reference levels, it's forced a lot of mixers to go back to a much more dynamic type of mixing," he says.

"The way we all used to mix was everybody was trying to get their mixes louder than everybody else's, which, of course, was dictated by the commercials. Once we were required to hit the spec, it became very liberating because once you've got your dialogue in a nice, solid place, you find you have all this extra headroom for dynamics. So, in the case of Deadliest Catch, if a huge thousand-pound crab pot comes crashing down on the deck, you can still really emphasize the impact because you haven't already jacked your audio up so hot that you have no headroom left."

Prior to the release of the Dolby Media Meter software, Bronow used (and still uses) a Dolby LM100 Broadcast Loudness Meter to measure dialogue levels, typically running it across an entire stereo mix on the stereo output bus, or, for 5.1 mixes, running the Center channel through it. “With the Media Meter, we were able to put it across the 5.1 bus instead of just the stereo bus. Plus, there's no setup that you have to do for it, which is great.

"Another nice thing about the Media Meter is that it gives you your infinite loudness level and your short-term reading in the same window. Which is really nice, because on Deadliest Catch, dialogue can be all over the place." In addition to audio from camera mics, Bronow must work with dialogue coming over the ship's radio, or over the PA system on the deck. "That kind of thing, especially, tends to kick the short-term dialogue level up higher. But because I know I can go up to –22, I can see that even though I might be going a little hot on those pieces of dialogue, by knowing both the infinite and short-term values, I can still be confident that my overall value is still within spec. And I can do that throughout the entire mix process."

Bronow has discovered some slight differences in how the Dolby Media Meter functions compare to the Dolby LM100. "In some ways it’s a bit more convenient," he says. "With the way I have it set up in Pro Tools, if I'm auditioning something—say, an AudioSuite plug-in—the Media Meter doesn't register the level adjustments I might make. Which is nice, because that type of thing could send your infinite levels off the scale. With the LM100, I'd always have to do a reset after that, because the levels would be way out.

"I also find the Media Meter to be very fast," says Bronow. "It gives me the numbers very quickly. I'm using the RTAS real-time measurement version, and I've become quite reliant on keeping an eye on it as I'm mixing. I can quickly anchor the dialogue right where it's supposed to be, and then build the rest of the show around it. As other audio elements are introduced, I find it does have an effect on the Media Meter (and it did on the LM100 as well), but at least I have a great starting point. Plus, it has a really cool user interface; it's really easy on the eyes!"

The logging is another feature Bronow especially appreciates. "I set up the log before starting the layback. Then I can come back afterward and immediately see if and where it's gone out of spec. That's much better than having a show come back from a network’s QC. With the Media Meter, I can fix things like that before the show ever gets to them."

So Good You’ll Tell Your Friends

Bronow has even gone so far as to encourage colleagues to use the Dolby Media Meter. "Overall, it's great to have a product that satisfies a very specific but very important need for mixers, and to have the company that makes it be so attentive to what our needs are. I've recommended the Dolby Media Meter to a number of people at other studios, who are now working with it. I tell them, if you mix with it, you'll be able to deliver exactly what the network is asking for. Even dialogue editors can benefit. If you’re cutting up complex dialogue, it can be useful in getting levels in the ballpark as you're working."

For those who remain unconvinced, Bronow goes on to say, "Sometimes mixers I know will ask if it’s possible to approximate what the Media Meter does using other types of meters. I tell them that they can use anything they want, but they'll still be shooting in the dark. Ultimately, if you work on a show and it gets rejected because it’s not within spec, you'll be saying, ‘Gee, I really should have had the Dolby Media Meter.’"

Find additional information on Dolby Media Meter.

Find more information on Max Post.

Deadliest Catch images copyright and trademark 2009 Discovery Communications, LLC.