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Deaf accessibility to TV on demand 'unacceptable' - National Deaf Children’s Society

Friday, December 19th 2014 by Dean Reilly

More subtitled programmes than ever are being provided via video on demand services, but the industry must continue to improve, a new report has said.

The Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD) Provision of Access Services 2014 report determined that there had been “significant” increases in subtitled on demand content from public service broadcasters.

ATVOD chair Ruth Evans said: “We welcome the continued improvement in the scale and breadth of subtitle provision on UK VOD services. We encourage ITV and Channel 4 to follow Channel 5’s lead in spreading provision across outlets, from own brand websites to mobile and other platforms.

"We also welcome the work of commercial VOD services who have provided access services in the last year, and want to see other commercial providers to put into action plans for provision as soon as possible.

"Although progress is being make each year, there remains much to be done."

Ms Evans called on commercial services such as Sky, which she said offered "relatively few accessible programmes" to expand provision to a greater proportion of on demand services.

She added: "We have no power to compel VOD providers to become accessible – we can’t set quotas as Ofcom does for certain television broadcast channels - but we are committed to doing everything we can to encourage and assist them to make real progress by 2016 when Government has indicated it will review the situation.”

'Extremely disappointing'

Responding to the report, Susan Daniels, chief executive of the National Deaf Children’s Society 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.

“We are working with ATVOD (the Authority for TV On Demand) to encourage VOD service providers to make their services more accessible to those with disabilities relating to deaf people.

"This work has raised awareness amongst the on-demand providers and has led to an increase in the availability of subtitling which we expect to increase in the future."

Ms Daniels also said that ATVOD has no statutory powers to compel service providers to increase the level of accessible content available through on demand services.

She added: “Over time, we’d like Ofcom to treat online programming in the same was as terrestrial TV is treated when it comes to subtitles. We appreciate the technological difficulties behind this but this is the 21st century and such difficulties should not be insurmountable.

“We would also like broadcasters and operators to remember that there are a sizeable number of people in the UK who are deaf or who have hearing loss.

"Not only providing access but also making accessible programs easily identifiable should not just been seen as an obligation under the Equality Act 2010 – it should be seen as a positive business opportunity and at the forefront of all new technological developments.

New technology

“Equal access should apply to all areas of a broadcasters business including their online, on-demand and other offerings. As new technologies are explored, for example the development of apps and interactive programming, broadcasters should be mindful of their deaf audiences and markets.”

The report highlighted that Channel 5, ITV and STV all provide subtitles for over 70% of on demand programming available through their websites.

The STV Player and Demand 5 app were singled out as leading examples of accessible mobile video platforms, with ATVOD saying that 2014 was an important year for the growth of subtitles on mobile applications.

However, the provision of programmes with audio description – where a dedicated audio channel provides commentary for what happens on the screen – lags behind the number of programmes with subtitles, with only three services providing any audio described content.

ATVOD regulates programmes on over 110 video on demand services available online, via set top boxes, on mobile phones, or via internet connected TVs.

Some of the biggest on demand services in the UK, such as BBC iPlayer and Netflix, also provide subtitled programmes, but are not included in the survey because they are not regulated by ATVOD.

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