Access services report: 2017
This report sets out the extent to which broadcast television channels and on-demand programme services (“ODPS”) carried subtitles, audio description and/or signing (collectively, “access services”) in 2017.
This is the first time that we have combined reporting on broadcast and on-demand accessibility. We want consumers to have easy access to information on which services are accessible to people with sight and/or hearing impairments, whether those services are accessed via traditional broadcast television, catch-up or ‘on-demand’. Some providers operate both types of services, and our interactive report lets users compare the two.
The statutory rules applying to broadcast services are different to those applying to on-demand services. Under the Communications Act 2003, broadcast television channels are required to make a certain proportion of their programmes accessible; the Code on Television Access Services sets out these obligations. For on-demand (including ‘catch-up’) services, there has been no legal requirement to provide access services. However, the Digital Economy Act 2017 paves the way for such requirements, and Ofcom’s recent consultation will inform government’s drafting of regulations in this area.
Nearly all domestic channels met or exceeded their targets and the majority did so comfortably. However, Cartoon Network and Boomerang, both licensed by Turner Broadcasting System Europe Limited, failed to meet their subtitling requirement of 53.3% by 8.5% and 11.4% respectively. In addition, CBS Reality, licensed by CBS AMC Networks EMEA Channels Partnership, underprovided against its audio description requirement of 10% by 3.1% and also had a small shortfall of 0.5% against its 23.3% subtitling requirement. We are currently investigating these potential breaches of the Access Services Code under the relevant procedures.
In 2017, domestic channels with an audience share of between 0.05% and 1% had the option to broadcast either 35 minutes of sign-presented programming each month or to participate in Ofcom-approved alternative arrangements that contribute to the availability of sign-presented programming. Where "Alt" is shown in the report, this indicates that the broadcaster contributed to the British Sign Language Broadcasting Trust (BSLBT), which commissions sign-presented programming and is broadcast on Film4.
2017 marked the fourth year that non-domestic channels licensed by Ofcom have been required to provide access services. All channels met or exceeded their requirements. In lieu of the signing arrangements set out in the Code on Television Access Services, all non-domestic broadcasters elected to provide an additional 5% of content with subtitles. This interim arrangement expired at the end of 2017. From January 2018, relevant non-domestic channels now meet their signing requirement by either broadcasting sign-interpreted programming or by providing 10% additional subtitling.
Ofcom regulates a wide range of ODPS, including public service broadcasters’ catch-up services, subscription film services and local TV archives. Our last report on ODPS accessibility covered the period from January 2016 to July 2017; this one covers the calendar year 2017 in order to align with broadcast data reporting.
Since the last report, the percentage of providers making any content accessible on their ODPS rose from 38% to 50.6%. This was due largely to a rise in the provision of subtitles, from 38% to 49% of providers. However, the proportion providing signed and audio described content remained static, at 8% and 11% respectively. Figure 1 below gives more detail on audio described content. Please see the full report for further information on the provision of all access services.
0.6% (cross platform)
0.5% (cross platform)
0.5% (cross platform)
0.19% (website & smart TV)
0.17% (website & smart TV)
Curzon Home Cinema
0.14% (cross platform)
8.5% (set top box)
7.4-7.6% (apps / website)
8.8-9.1% (apps / website)
10.1% (app / website)
8.4% (Apple TV)
16.2% (Google Play)
Sky ‘push’ content
Figure 1: Proportion of programme hours available with audio description 2016-2017
ODPS accessibility varies greatly depending on the platform used to view the service. In the second half of 2017, 27% of ODPS available in the UK carried subtitles on their own-brand websites (up slightly from 24% in the first half). The accessibility of services viewed on mobile apps rose from 15% to 20% during 2017, while only 8.8% (up from 6%) of ODPS viewed using games consoles or smart TVs provided access services.
In previous years there has been a significant gap in accessibility when on-demand services are viewed using platforms such as set top boxes (e.g. FreeView, Sky Q) and video streaming sticks (e.g. Amazon Fire, Google Chromecast) which enable more traditional ‘living room’ access to on-demand services via a television set. In 2017, 20% of services on these platforms carried subtitles, up from 15% in the second half of 2016. While this is an improvement, there remain only a limited number of ODPS which are accessible when viewed using the most commonly used platforms. By the end of 2017, three on-demand services were available with subtitles on FreeView, six on Sky and three on Virgin Media.
Ofcom recognises that providing access services on ODPS poses challenges to providers. When we collected this data we also gave providers the opportunity to outline obstacles to provision. The most common obstacles mentioned continue to be:
- Cost of creating access services or converting broadcast access services for use on-demand; smaller providers particularly point to disproportionate costs for services with few users.
- Having to supply multiple platforms with access services in different technical formats; providers also emphasised the rapidly evolving nature of on-demand technology which means that platform requirements are subject to change.
- Lack of existing infrastructure, both technical and operational (e.g. staff).
- Short turnaround times leaving little room for broadcast access services to be re-purposed for use on-demand.
- Not receiving access services from content providers.
- Legal issues such as restricted intellectual property rights for access services.
- Issues specific to particular genres e.g. live sports (lack of space for audio description due to existing commentary); children’s content (perceived lack of benefit of subtitles for pre-school children).
Ofcom’s next report on broadcast and ODPS accessibility will be published in autumn 2018 and will look at accessibility in the first six months of 2018.
We have provided this report in an interactive form so that consumers can compare the accessibility of broadcast and on-demand services across a variety of platforms. In addition to the report we have provided excel spreadsheets containing the full data set. If you have accessibility requirements which are not met by these publications, and would like to request information in a different format, you can email email@example.com or call our Advisory Team from Monday to Friday between 09:00 and 17:00 on 020 7981 3040 or 0300 123 3333. If you are deaf or speech-impaired, you can use our textphone numbers, which are 020 7981 3043 or 0300 123 2024.
Full interactive report
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