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Domestic TV channels all 'comfortably' meeting accessibility targets - Ofcom

Thursday, April 9th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

Deaf and blind campaign groups have welcomed an Ofcom report into access services used by TV channels, but said more needs to be done.

The regulator published its Television Access Services Report 2014 today, which found that all 72 domestic channels required to provide access services – subtitles, signing and audio description – met or exceeded their targets, the majority comfortably.

Under the 2003 Communications Act, TV broadcasters are required to deliver a certain proportion of their programmes with subtitles, signing and audio description (AD) to make sure people with hearing and visual impairments can understand and enjoy programmes.

Ofcom has to make sure that the requirements are met and reports on access services twice a year, with today’s report showing the cumulative position from January to December last year.

The legislation allows the watchdog to set targets calling for a certain percentage of channels’ output to incorporate access services.

Some public service channels are required to meet higher targets for subtitling – 90% for ITV and Channel 4, while the BBC’s targets are to subtitle 100% of their programme content, audio describe 10%, and sign 5%.

The report said a number of broadcasters had voluntarily committed to delivering 20% audio description on all or most of their channels, even though the statutory obligation is only to deliver 10% – less for channels that are less than five years old.

The report said: “Of the 72 domestic channels required to provide access services over 2014, all met or exceeded their targets and the majority did so comfortably.”

Technical and operational outages

It also said that BBC channels that missed their 100% subtitling target by less than 0.2% – BBC1, BBC2, BBC News and CBBC – did so due to technical and operational outages.

The report also said that 2014 was the first year that certain non-domestic channels licensed by Ofcom were required to provide access services and the majority of those broadcasters had met or exceeded their obligation.

Campaign groups welcomed the report, but said more work could still be done to improve access services for people with visual and audio disabilities.

Susan Daniels, CEO for the National Deaf Children’s Society, said: “Deaf children deserve to feel included and subtitling enables them to enjoy TV programmes along with their family and hearing friends.

“It is encouraging to see that improved access for deaf viewers is now a priority for many broadcasters.

“However, progress is still needed to ensure far better access for on-demand programmes and also to enhance the quality of subtitles.”

Anna Jones, from RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People), said: "Audio description allows blind and partially sighted viewers to enjoy TV programmes which would otherwise be difficult to follow.

"It's really reassuring that broadcasters in the UK take their responsibility to provide AD seriously, and that many of them go above and beyond the minimum legal requirements set."

She said UK broadcasters should be congratulated for their efforts, but said the RNIB would like to see even more AD available, so people with sight loss can have the same viewing choices as everyone else.

"However, considerations towards accessibility shouldn't stop at providing audio description; many viewers with sight loss have difficulties operating their TV menus or using the electronic programme guide."

She added: "We are encouraging platform providers and equipment manufacturers to make their electronic programme guides, menus and apps accessible to all via speech to ensure that the whole TV experience is accessible."

'Whole TV experience'

Musician Andre Louis, who is blind, said audio description was still “playing second fiddle” to subtitling when it comes to making TV more accessible.

“To enable AD, if you don’t know how, is difficult. Every system is different,” he said.

“But to enable subtitling it’s simply a case of pressing a button. It’s playing second fiddle in a way.”

He said it was often the case that it was not made clear when audio description was offered for a programme.

“Often you’ll see an ‘S’ for subtitles next to a programme listing, but not ‘AD’, so that means I won’t watch it.

“There’s quite a few times I’m missing out on content because I don’t know that it’s got AD when it has.”

Mr Louis also echoed Ms Daniels’ comments about on-demand programmes, saying he would like to see more audio description for on-demand content, rather than just on scheduled shows.

In December, Cable.co.uk reported that an 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.

But chair Ruth 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.

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