Proposals for access services on non-domestic channels

  • Start: 23 May 2012
  • Status: Closed
  • End: 11 July 2012

Within the UK, many people with hearing or visual impairments are nonetheless able to understand and enjoy television because of the access services (subtitling, signing and audio description) that Ofcom requires the more popular channels to provide. It is clear from the feedback that Ofcom has received that these access services are particularly valued by viewers with sensory impairments.

This document:

a) seeks views on how Ofcom proposes to require certain television licensees which serve other European countries (non-domestic channels) to provide access services for the benefit of viewers in those countries with sensory impairments; and

b) explains the proposed arrangements and when these would come into force, and invites views from interested parties by 5pm on 11 July 2012. In drawing up these arrangements, we have been conscious of the costs that they would impose on broadcasters, and have sought to ensure that they are both proportionate and consistent with UK and European law.


In areas where the European law on audiovisual media services the Audiovisual Media Services (AVMS) Directive - imposes obligations, Ofcom is required to regulate all broadcasters under its jurisdiction both domestic and non-domestic in the same way.

Changes to the Directive that came into force in December 2009 required Member States to encourage media service providers [including broadcasters] under their jurisdiction to ensure that their services are gradually made accessible to people with a visual or hearing disability (-1-).

Ofcom has already put in place measures to ensure that relevant domestic channels make their services gradually more accessible to people with visual or hearing disability. As a consequence of the change in European law, Ofcom now needs to make similar arrangements in relation to relevant non-domestic channels. For this reason, we are consulting on:

a) proposals to apply access service obligations to non-domestic channels on terms equivalent to those applying to domestic services; and

b) consequential changes to the Code on Television Access Services(the Code) (Annex 2).

Proposed arrangements

Subject to the outcome of this consultation, Ofcom proposes to publish a list of non-domestic channels serving other EU Member States that meet the criteria described below by the end of this year, and to require those channels to begin providing access services from 1 January 2014.

Consistent with European law, and with Ofcom's policy, the proposed criteria for selecting which non-domestic channels should provide access services are similar to those applying to domestic channels. Thus, as explained in more detail in Section 3, access service obligations would apply to those channels meeting both of the following tests:

a) an audience share equating to the threshold applying to domestic channels; and

b) the ability to meet the assessed cost of providing access services by spending no more than 1% of their relevant turnover.

Channels that did not meet one or both of these tests would be exempted from access services obligations unless their circumstances changed.

Licensees would need to meet the subtitling and audio description targets set out in Ofcom's Code, rising progressively from 10% for subtitling and 2% for audio description in 2014, to 80% and 10% audio description respectively within ten years. If the cost of meeting these targets in full exceeded 1% of the relevant turnover of a channel, the subtitling targets could be reduced substantially. No change would be made to audio description or signing quotas. Only if a licensee could not afford to meet the reduced targets would a broadcaster be exempted altogether from providing access services. See paragraph 3.55 onwards.

Some licensees provide subtitling on local-language subtitling intended for all viewers to foreign programming. Under our proposals this so-called language subtitling should count towards access service targets.

For the first two years, it is proposed that special arrangements would apply to signing on most channels, giving channels with audiences shares falling below the signing threshold to choose whether or not to meet their obligations by broadcasting 30 minutes of sign-presented programming each month, proposing alternative arrangements that would contribute towards sign-presented programming, or providing additional subtitling. The purpose of this transitional period, which would run until the end of 2015, would be to allow broadcasters the option of devising alternative arrangements (such as those developed by broadcasters in the UK to pool resources) that offer the prospect of optimising the benefits to sign language users.

If Ofcom was satisfied that it would be impracticable for a channel to provide a particular access service for example, because the necessary infrastructure or consumer equipment was lacking the channel concerned would be exempted, although the situation would be kept under review.

Proposed next steps

Interested parties should let us have their comments by 5pm on 11 July 2012. Ofcom will consider carefully any comments received, as well as any other information it has gathered or received, before publishing its decisions in a Statement later in the year.

If Ofcom concludes that it should implement the proposals set out in this document, it would expect to publish by the end of the year a list of non-domestic channels required to provide access services. Broadcasters would have 12 months to prepare for this, and would be required to start providing access services no later than 1 January 2014.

Main documents

Supporting documents

Supporting documents

Supporting documents

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Responder name Type
Action_on_Hearing_Loss.pdf (PDF File, 15.6 KB) Organisation
COBA.pdf (PDF File, 91.1 KB) Organisation
Disabled_Peoples_Organisatio.pdf (PDF File, 47.9 KB) Organisation
European_Disability_Forum.pdf (PDF File, 177.8 KB) Organisation
European_Federation.pdf (PDF File, 49.7 KB) Organisation
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