Television and on-demand programme services: Access services report – January to December 2021

Published: 22 December 2022
Last updated: 16 March 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”) in the full calendar year 2021.

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.

In Autumn 2021, a number of broadcasters suffered significant disruption to their broadcast operations following an incident at Red Bee Media’s broadcast centre. This included the provision of access services across both linear channels and on-demand services. We discuss the disruption to access services on broadcasting services in more detail below.

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, they are encouraged to make their services progressively more accessible and Ofcom requires ODPS providers to submit data on accessibility for this purpose. The Digital Economy Act 2017 provides for Government to draft regulations imposing accessibility obligations on providers and Ofcom has made a series of recommendations (in December 2018 and July 2021) to inform these.

We are 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 Autumn 2021, a number of channels suffered significant disruption to their broadcast operations, including the availability of access services. Channel 4 was the most severely affected. As a result, we brought forward publication of the data provided by Channel 4 setting out the provision of access services on Channel 4 channels and published this in January 2022.

As set out in that report, we are currently investigating a potential breach of the Code on Television Access Services in relation to the provision of subtitles on Channel 4 on the Freesat platform specifically. For clarification, in our interactive report the percentage of programming on Channel 4 with subtitles reflects the amount of programming with subtitles as reported to us by Channel 4. Channel 4 reported on broadcast platforms excluding Freesat. For Freesat specifically, Channel 4 reported that the percentage of programming provided with subtitles was 85.41%.

Other disrupted broadcasters were affected less severely than Channel 4 and all met or exceeded their quotas for providing access services across 2021 as a whole. As we set out in our report in January, we are also conducting a review into transmission arrangements and backup facilities that the broadcasters had in place at the time of the outage. We will use the findings of that review to ensure that steps are taken to avoid disruption to the availability of access services in the future. We will publish the final report in due course.

Domestic channels with an audience share of between 0.05% and 1% have the option either to:

  1. broadcast 60 minutes of sign-presented programming each month; or
  2. 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.

Ofcom regulates a wide range of on-demand programme services (ODPS), including public service broadcasters’ catch-up services, subscription film services and local TV archives. 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; this should be taken into account when considering the data and comparing it with previous years.

The proportion of providers responding to this request who offered subtitles continues to rise (71.4%, up from 63.8% in 2020). The provision of audio description and signing, which appeared to dip in 2020 (possibly due to pressures on production during the coronavirus pandemic), both increased in 2021. The proportion of responding providers offering audio description was 27% (up from 16.7% in 2020) and for signing that figure was 12.7% (up from 11.4% in 2020 and in line with the 2019 figure of 12.8%).

Looking only at the services where access services were offered, 2021 continued to see modest increases in the proportion of content carrying subtitles and audio description: 66.1% of programming hours were subtitled in 2021 (up from 58.1% in 2020) and 17.2% were audio described (up from 14.2% in 2020). Those who offered signing made it available on 2% of content (down very slightly from 2.4% in 2020).

Alongside our information request, we asked providers about any barriers they had identified to the increased provision of access services. The most common barrier, particularly for smaller broadcasters, continues to be the costs associated both with developing the capacity to provide access services and with creating those access services. Related to this, providers also raised the issue of third-party content partners who do not provide access services files with their content (or charge for them). Operational issues exist around providing access services for programmes which require fast turnaround for on-demand delivery.

In previous years, providers have pointed to technological issues with providing on-demand access services, particularly relating to the increasing number of platforms, each of which requires access services in a different technical format. Some respondents did again raise these (and other) technical issues, but our sense is that this may be perceived as less of a barrier as providers incrementally develop access service capability across their platforms.

Supporting this, the figures from 2021 suggest that there is no longer such marked difference between provision of access services across different types of platform (mobile apps, set top boxes and streaming sticks, websites and so on). The proportion of ODPS providers carrying subtitles across a range of platforms now ranges from 75% on websites and 76% on connected TVs to 81% on apps and set top boxes/streaming sticks and 89% on games consoles (up from 55.6% in 2020).

More differences emerge in relation to the individual platforms mentioned by respondents to this request. The proportion of ODPS available with subtitles on specific platforms (out of the total number of ODPS on each platform who answered the request) was highest for Roku (93.3%) and YouView/BT (92.3%), with Freeview Play and Google Chromecast also supporting a high proportion of subtitled ODPS (85.7% and 86.7% respectively). Those larger platforms which appeared to host a lower proportion of subtitled ODPS included Virgin TV/Virgin Media (61.1%) and Sky on-demand (55%).

UK services carrying audio description in the calendar year 2021

The following table gives more detail on audio described content, for ease of use with screen readers. Please see the interactive report for more information on the provision of all access services.

On-demand servicePlatform Content available with audio description (%)
All4 Apple TV 24.47%
All4 Smartphone/tablet – Android app 28.52%
All4 Smartphone/tablet – iOS app 24.47%
All4 Website – own brand 28.34%
BFI Player Amazon Prime Video 2.56%
BFI Player Apple TV 2.56%
BFI Player Smart TV – Samsung 2.34%
BFI Player Website – own brand 2.34%
BFI Player Website – own brand (short form archive) 1.61%
Boomerang, Cartoon Network, Cartoonito* BT TV 13.68%
Boomerang, Cartoon Network, Cartoonito* Now TV 11.25%
Boomerang, Cartoon Network, Cartoonito* Sky Go 10.33%
Boomerang, Cartoon Network, Cartoonito* Sky On-demand 10.33%
Boomerang, Cartoon Network, Cartoonito* TalkTalk TV 20.80%
Boomerang, Cartoon Network, Cartoonito* Virgin TV 12.72%
Britbox Smartphone/tablet – Android app 25.97%
Britbox Smartphone/tablet – iOS app 25.99%
BT TV BT TV 2.45%
BT TV YouView (BT) 2.45%
Disney+ UK Amazon Fire TV 23.38%
Disney+ UK Apple TV 23.38%
Disney+ UK Games console – PlayStation 23.38%
Disney+ UK Games console – Xbox 23.38%
Disney+ UK Google Chromecast 23.38%
Disney+ UK Now TV 23.38%
Disney+ UK Roku 23.38%
Disney+ UK Smart TV – LG 23.38%
Disney+ UK Smart TV – Philips 23.38%
Disney+ UK Smart TV – Samsung 23.38%
Disney+ UK Smartphone/tablet – Android app 23.38%
Disney+ UK Smartphone/tablet – iOS app 23.38%
Disney+ UK Website – own brand 23.38%
Filmbox Live Amazon Prime Video (UK) 76.03%
Globe Player Website – own brand 20.25%
Iqra Bangla Sky Go 15%
Iqra Bangla Smartphone/tablet – Android app 15%
Iqra Bangla Smartphone/tablet – iOS app 15%
Iqra Bangla Website – own brand 15%
ITV Hub Smartphone/tablet – Android app 30.09%
ITV Hub Smartphone/tablet – iOS app 30.12%
Journeyman Pictures VOD Apple TV 0.12%
Journeyman Pictures VOD Google Play Movies & TV 0.10%
Journeyman Pictures VOD Vimeo 0.09%
Journeyman Pictures VOD Website – own brand 0.02%
MTV Now TV 1.74%
MTV Sky Go 1.74%
MTV Sky On-demand 1.74%
MTV Smartphone/tablet – Android app 1.82%
MTV Smartphone/tablet – iOS app 1.82%
My5 Amazon Fire TV 6.77%
My5 Android TV 6.74%
My5 Apple TV 6.74%
My5 Google Chromecast 6.78%
My5 Roku 6.77%
My5 Smartphone/tablet – Android app 6.77%
My5 Smartphone/tablet – iOS app 6.77%
My5 Virgin TV 12.30%
My5 Virgin My5 App 6.90%
My5 Website – own brand 6.79%
Nickelodeon BT TV 9.67%
S4C Amazon Fire TV 14.10%
S4C BBC iPlayer 11.51%
S4C Freesat 14.10%
S4C Google Chromecast 14.10%
S4C Sky Go 14.10%
S4C Sky On-demand 14.10%
S4C Smart TV – Samsung 14.10%
S4C Smartphone/tablet – Android app 14.10%
S4C Smartphone/tablet – iOS app 14.10%
S4C TalkTalk TV 14.10%
S4C Virgin TV 14.10%
S4C Website – own brand 14.10%
S4C YouView (BT) 14.10%
S4C YouView (connected TV) 14.10%
S4C YouView (Plusnet) 14.10%
S4C YouView (TalkTalk) 14.10%

*Boomerang/Cartoon Network/Cartoonito figures show AD provided to platforms but not necessarily played out to consumers.

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 2021

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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