Television and on-demand programme services: Access services report – January to December 2022

Published: 25 May 2023
Last updated: 25 May 2023

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”) across the full calendar year 2022.

The report allows consumers to compare the extent to which traditional broadcast television and catch-up or on-demand services are accessible to people with sight and/or hearing impairments.

The statutory rules for broadcast services are different to those for 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.

On-demand (including catch-up) services are not currently under any statutory obligation to provide access services. However, Ofcom is committed to ensuring that disabled people can, as far as possible, access television and on-demand services, enabling full participation in social and cultural life. In March 2023 the Government published a Draft Media Bill which includes accessibility requirements for certain on-demand services, following a series of recommendations by Ofcom (in December 2018 and July 2021).

In 2022, all channels met or exceeded their requirements to provide access services. Ofcom is pleased to see that many channels are continuing to exceed these minimum requirements by some margin, with Sky now providing subtitles on 100% of programming on its entertainment and cinema channels since December 2022.

Following disruption to the provision of subtitling, signing and audio description on Channel 4 services in Autumn 2021, Ofcom found Channel 4 Corporation (“C4C”) to be in breach of Condition 19 of the Channel 4 Licence. As outlined in our Decision (PDF, 313.5 KB) on this matter, we required Channel 4 to report to us at the end of 2022 about the steps it has taken to ensure the future robustness of its access services provision and the extent to which it has met its commitments in continuing to improve the accessibility of its programming on both its broadcast and on demand services. Channel 4 reported to Ofcom on these matters as requested, and we welcome the various steps that Channel 4 has taken to ensure the resilience of its access services provision and disaster recovery systems. These have included: the completion of its Broadcast Systems Migration in September 2022; the ability to produce subtitles and audio description from multiple locations; and the hiring of a dedicated access services manager. It has also substantially exceeded the minimum requirements for its broadcast services as well as increased provision on its on-demand platform.

Following the 2021 outage, we have also made changes to the technical rules that the UK’s digital terrestrial television (DTT) broadcasters are required to comply with. We have added a new requirement that the relevant public service broadcasters assign the same priority to the resilience of access services as they do to vision and sound.

The annual quotas for broadcasters are expressed as a percentage of the output on a broadcast channel which is required to be provided with each access service. These are shown as a percentage of hours and are calculated based on affordability and the length of time the channel has been obliged to provide access services. Further information on how these quotas are calculated is set out in Ofcom’s Access Services Code (PDF, 294.0 KB).

Domestic channels with an audience share of between 0.05% and 1% have the option either to broadcast 75 minutes of sign-presented programming each month or participate in Ofcom-approved alternative arrangements which contribute to the availability of sign-presented programming.

Where "BSLBT Contribution" 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 the channels Film4 and Together.

Where “Exempt” is marked in the report, this indicates that these channels are exempt from providing audio description. This is due to the nature of the content broadcast on these services meaning there is little space within the audio material to provide audio description.

Ofcom regulates a wide range of ODPS, including public service broadcasters’ catch-up services, subscription film services and local TV archives. As mentioned above, ODPS are not currently under any statutory obligation to provide access services. Nevertheless, we ask ODPS providers to submit data on the extent to which they make their services accessible to people with sight and/or hearing impairments. The number of providers responding – and which providers respond – can vary, which means that any trends we identify here are indicative only*.

The proportion of providers responding to this request who offered subtitles continues to rise (82.4% up from 71.4% in 2021), as does the proportion of providers offering signing (14.3% up from 12.7% in 2021). However, the provision of audio description has decreased to 22.4% of those responding (compared with 27% in 2021).

Looking only at the services where access services were offered, 2022 continued to see modest increases in the proportion of content carrying subtitles: 71.7% of programming hours were subtitled in 2022 (up from 66.1% in 2021). The percentage of programme hours with audio description has decreased slightly (15% down from 17.2% in 2021) and signing levels seem to have remained fairly constant (at 2.3% of programming hours compared with 2% in 2021).

Alongside our information request, we ask providers about any barriers they have identified to the increased provision of access services. As in previous years, the most common barrier mentioned is cost. In practice, cost relates to a number of other distinct technical and logistical barriers raised by broadcasters – for example the failure of third-party content providers to include access service files along with acquired content (meaning ODPS providers need to create access services from scratch even when they might already exist).

Similarly, many respondents pointed to a lack of standardised solutions for enabling access services on third-party platforms (e.g. set-top boxes, smart TVs, games consoles, etc.) which can mean additional development costs for ODPS providers. Nevertheless, the figures from 2022 continue to suggest that providers are increasing the range of platforms via which they can support access services. The proportion of ODPS providers carrying subtitles on given types of platform in the UK now ranges from 78.9% on websites to 90.9% on apps and 91.2% on set-top boxes.

Ofcom will continue to facilitate industry discussion around standardising processes and technical solutions.

Finally, we ask providers on a confidential basis about any accessibility action plans they currently have in place. We encourage providers to develop such plans with a view to continually and progressively making their services more accessible to disabled people – we would like to see accessibility considerations embedded into broader product development strategies and plans. It is a statutory duty for providers to provide Ofcom with a copy of any such plans.

*Figures relating to hours of programming do not include Channel 4’s provision of access services as this data was submitted in number of programmes only.

Interactive report

We have provided this report in an interactive format so that you can compare the accessibility of broadcast and on-demand services across a variety of platforms.

For the best experience, expand to full screen (click on the button in the bottom right corner).

Television and on-demand programme services: Access services report – January to December 2022

The full data set is also available to download in CSV format.

If you have accessibility requirements which are not met by these publications, and would like to request this information in a different format, you can email 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.

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