Television and on-demand programme services: Access services report 2021 (Channel 4)

28 January 2022

Summary

Ofcom has decided to launch an investigation, following an extended outage last year of Channel 4’s subtitling, audio description and signing (collectively known as ‘access services’).

Although Channel 4 still met most of its annual statutory quotas for access services in 2021, the broadcaster fell short of its quota for subtitles on the Freesat satellite platform. As well as investigating this, and the circumstances surrounding it, we are conducting a broader review of the transmission arrangements and backup facilities that Channel 4 and other affected broadcasters had in place at the time of the outage.

A BSL summary of our decision is available below.

British Sign Language video transcript: Television Access Services Report 2021 (Channel 4)  (PDF, 84.8 KB)

In September 2021, following an incident at Red Bee Media’s broadcast centre, a number of broadcasters suffered significant disruption to their broadcast operations, including their provision of access services (subtitling, signing and audio description). In relation to access services, Channel 4 was the most seriously affected, with an extended outage that began on 25 September 2021 and was not fully resolved until 19 November 2021.

Due to the significance of the issue and the time it took to resolve, we have brought forward publication of the data provided by Channel 4 setting out the level of provision of subtitling, signing and audio description on Channel 4 channels in 2021 against their requirements.

The level of access services that certain channels must provide was set by Parliament under the Communications Act 2003. These channels must ensure that minimum proportions of their total programming hours offer certain access services. The legislation makes clear these must be calculated over a 12-month period.

The quotas and actual performance of Channel 4’s services in 2021, are set out below.

Next steps

Ofcom has decided to launch an investigation into Channel 4’s under-provision of subtitles on the Freesat platform and the surrounding circumstances, including the extent to which Channel 4 promoted the awareness of the availability of its access services across all its channels and platforms during the period of the outage.

Although we recognise that Channel 4 did meet its other requirements, as a result of over-performance outside of the period of the outage, we remain concerned about this incident. It resulted in a lengthy outage to Channel 4’s access services provision and also wider disruption to its general broadcasts. A number of other broadcasters were also affected by the incident at Red Bee Media, though to a less significant degree.

So we are also undertaking a review of the transmission arrangements and backup facilities that Channel 4 and the other affected broadcasters had in place at the time of the outage, and what changes they have made as a result. We will use the findings of this review to ensure that steps are taken to avoid future such incidents. We will also consider whether further regulatory action may be required to ensure a reliable access services provision remains in place for audiences, no matter what incidents may occur to the broadcast infrastructure that is used to provide them.