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Synchronisation still a problem for TV subtitles

Friday, November 7th 2014 by

The overall quality of subtitles on UK TV is improving but speeds are slipping, an Ofcom report has claimed.

The ‘Measuring live subtitling quality’ report, which examines the accuracy, speed and delay between speech and the corresponding subtitle appearing on screen, found broadcasters are beginning to make improvements.

The quality of the live subtitles was found to be good, with an average accuracy rate of 98.3%. The report also found that pre-recorded subtitles helped to increase this overall accuracy.

However, Ofcom warned that the use of pre-recorded subtitles within programmes that also feature live subtitles can cause problems. It reported: “In an attempt to catch up with the audio after a piece with delayed live subtitles, some subtitles are being cued too quickly, with speeds of 290wpm, 350wpm and even 460wpm, which are not readable for most viewers.”

Similarly, the report claims that the delay between the spoken word and when the corresponding subtitle appears on screen – referred to as latency – is problematic, stating: “this round’s samples were generally worse than the maximum recommended 3 seconds in Ofcom’s guidelines.”

The report found that there were some instances of up to 21-second delays, making programmes difficult to follow.

Susan Daniels, Chief Executive at the National Deaf Children’s Society, said: “The National Deaf Children’s Society supports Ofcom’s work on improving the quality of live subtitling on TV and welcome its latest results.

"On Tuesday 4 November, a UK broadcaster experimented for the first time with the insertion of a short delay (25 seconds) in the transmission of a live programme – to investigate whether it can help improve the quality of live subtitling. This experiment is continuing and we support this work as it aims to find workable solutions to the problems.”

Ms Daniels continued: “It is encouraging to see an increase in the use of block subtitles, which are easier and quicker for viewers to read than scrolling subtitles.

"However progress needs to happen faster and improvements, particularly around latency, are still required. We hope to see improvements in accuracy, speed and the latency of live subtitles when the next Ofcom sampling exercise begins.”

The Ofcom publication is the second of four reports from the regulator looking at the quality of live subtitling on British television, originally announced in October 2013. It is based on samples drawn from live-subtitled programming broadcast in April and May 2014 by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky. The next report is scheduled for April 2015.

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