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Broadcasters given more time to increase use of sign language on TV

Thursday, May 14th 2015 by Dean Reilly

Ofcom has delayed changes to rules about sign language programming on TV – and given broadcasters more time to hit new accessibility spending targets.

The telecoms regulator originally planned to require broadcasters to increase sign-presented programmes on their channels and spend more money on accessibility from 1 January 2015.

However, Ofcom announced that the consultation process took longer than expected, and subsequently broadcasters would have to start following the new rules from 1 January 2016 instead.

The new rules mean that broadcasters must increase “over some years” the amount of sign-presented programming on their channels from 30 minutes to 75 minutes per month.

Broadcasters must also increase the minimum spend on making alternative arrangements for consumers to access programming, with the annual figure rising from £20,000 to a maximum of approximately £60,000.

Originally, the increase in accessibility spending was supposed to be spread over four years. However, Ofcom explained that there was a possibility that some broadcasters may not have had the money to pay for access services over that period of time.

The regulator explained in its 'Changes to signing arrangements for relevant domestic TV channels' report: “If broadcasters do not have enough money to pay for access services, that harms viewers who use subtitles and audio description, as well as signing.

“By giving broadcasters more time, there is more chance that the amount of money they earn will grow. The more money they earn, the more money they have to pay for access services.”

Subtitles, signing and audio description

The latest Ofcom ruling stems from a 2003 Parliamentary decision that TV channels must show programmes with subtitles and sign language.

Furthermore, Parliament said that audio description should also be made available on TV programmes to make accessing content easier for consumers who are blind.

Cable.co.uk previously reported that all 72 domestic UK TV channels required to provide access services – subtitles, signing and audio description – had met or exceeded set target.

Deaf and blind campaign groups welcomed the findings of the Television Access Services Report, but many said more needed to be done.

The Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD) Provision of Access Services report had found late last year that that there had been “significant” increases in subtitled on demand content from public service broadcasters.

Responding to the December 2014 publication, chief executive of the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) Susan Daniels told Cable.co.uk: "Many young people now watch TV in a range of different ways. It’s unacceptable that deaf young people do not have the same level of access on Netflix and so on.

"It’s also extremely disappointing that access doesn’t always seem to be at the forefront of these kind of new technological developments.”

She added that the NDCS was working with ATVOD to encourage video on demand service providers to make services more accessible.

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