Television and on-demand programme services: Access services report – January to December 2023

Published: 17 May 2024

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”) between January and December 2023.

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. The Media Bill, currently being considered by Parliament, includes accessibility requirements for certain on-demand services, following a series of recommendations by Ofcom (in December 2018 and July 2021).

Targets for broadcast television channels

Broadcasters are required to meet targets for the different access services they carry on their channels – these targets 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, 350.5 KB).

The annual quotas for broadcast channels are shown as a percentage of hours required to be provided with each access service. For ease of reference, Ofcom reports a single figure of provision of access services for each channel. However, the quotas apply on each delivery platform where a service is regulated.

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 to 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.

Provision across 2023

In 2023, all but one channel met or exceeded their requirements to provide access services. Discovery Corporate Services Limited under-provided against its 10% audio description requirement on the DMAX service, providing 9.1%. We will be investigating this under-provision of access services in line with the relevant procedures (PDF, 296.7 KB).

Ofcom is pleased to see that many channels are continuing to exceed the minimum requirements by some margin, particularly in relation to audio description where 13 channels are now providing audio description on over 50% of their programming. This is an increase from seven channels in 2022.

Ofcom regulates a wide range of ODPS, including public service broadcasters’ catch-up services and subscription film services. 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 each access service increased substantially between 2022 and 2023. In 2023, 89.1% of responding providers offered subtitles (up from 79.6% in 2022). 22.6% of responding providers offered signing (up from 14.8% in 2022) and 32.1% offered audio description (up from 22.2% in 2022).

Looking only at the services where access services were offered, 2023 continued to see increases in the proportion of content carrying subtitles: 83.3% of programme hours were subtitled by those responding in relation to 2023 (up from 71.9% in 2022), and 25.8% of programme hours were audio described (up from 15.8% in 2022). However, the percentage of programme hours with signing had fallen slightly from 2.2% in 2022 to 1.9% in 2023.

Alongside our information request, we asked providers to identify barriers to increased provision of access services. As in previous years, the most common barrier mentioned was cost, including resourcing and training of staff. Many providers pointed to the failure of third-party content providers to include access service files along with acquired content at the point of sale (meaning that ODPS providers need to create access services from scratch even when they might already exist).

Respondents also 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 and more complex technical development costs for ODPS providers. Other providers mentioned ongoing issues with certain legacy platforms not supporting certain access service files. Nevertheless, the figures from 2023 continue to suggest that providers are increasing the range of platforms via which they can offer access services. The proportion of responding ODPS providers carrying subtitles on given types of platform now ranges from 76.9% on games consoles to 94.7% on connected TVs and 95.8% on mobile apps.

Ofcom will continue to facilitate industry-wide discussion around sharing best practice and the potential for standardising processes and technical solutions, via a working group of both ODPS providers and platforms. In our accessibility best practice guidelines (PDF, 328.6 KB), which we updated and expanded in April 2024, we recommend that providers and content suppliers include access service files as part of acquiring or selling content to discourage access service file duplication costs.

Finally, we asked 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 give Ofcom a copy of any such plans.

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).

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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