(CNN) — AMC Theatres says it’s adding onscreen captions for some of its auditoriums this year as part of a collaboration with the speech processing technology company SpeechAI.
The theaters will feature the technology in the form of an onscreen overlay that reads aloud dialogue from movies in support of the “See It Loud” initiative from Autism Speaks, a non-profit dedicated to understanding autism spectrum disorders.
Autism Speaks says it plans to use the partnership to raise awareness of autism with teenagers and college students. Last year, nearly 90 percent of the estimated 1.4 million people on the autism spectrum are ages 14 to 24, the group said.
Abby Wright, the director of brand activations for Autism Speaks, said that she expects to work with the film studios to make the technology more widely available throughout the industry, noting that the initiative is still in its early stages.
“One of the biggest challenges with this is getting movie theaters to invest in technology that’s going to be a little bit pricey because of license fees and licensing costs and so on,” she said. “So there’s still a long way to go. We’re in the early stages right now, and we have lots of partners, but we still have a long way to go to see this as a ubiquitous technology throughout the industry.”
The captioning initiative isn’t a first for AMC. All theaters, including those in the AMC Theatres-owned Carmike Cinemas chain, already include a system that reads onscreen captions for movies that include subtitles.
The demonstration at this year’s CES drew a small crowd. Jon Tamarkin, a 26-year-old who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder as a child, watched “First Man,” a Universal Pictures biopic that stars Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong. The movie was screened for 30 minutes, but attendees could only enjoy the clips in 30-second bursts because the captions in their seats were not continuously working.
Tamarkin was “super stoked” to have the technology in the theater, he said, and glad it was still being worked on.
However, he added that an argument he’d heard against the advancement of onscreen captions was that they are a distraction.
“There’s no way you’re going to watch this movie over and over and be like, ‘Oh, my god, I just need to stop and read the subtitles so I don’t get distracted,’” he said. “People who have not heard this before — when they watch a movie and someone is sitting by themselves and they haven’t got a caption on, they just look at it to get some personal information, so there’s people who could not see this and at some point just get a little bit frustrated.”
The movie theater initiative was part of a broader pitch by AMC and SpeechAI to sell the technology to theater owners during this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Wright hopes that the features in theaters will help to create a market for autistic teens and other consumers to have access to the technology.
“It’s really kind of an education piece as well,” she said. “Hopefully kids feel empowered that they’re not being left out of this industry and that when they need to, they can access this technology.”
There’s one big caveat — after the demonstration, TAMarkin said the video sped up too much and he needed to watch it over and over. But in general, he called the video service “pretty awesome.”
“If movies are the one place we are trying to push everyone into learning about autism, then I’m just super pumped,” he said.