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Making sure TV and on-demand services remain accessible to all

Published: 13 July 2023

Ofcom is today consulting on proposed changes to our Access Services Code and associated best practice guidelines.

Access services include subtitles, signing and audio description. They help disabled people, including those with sensory impairments, to understand and enjoy TV and on-demand programmes.

Broadcasters must, by law, provide access services on a certain amount of their programming. We explain what they must do in our TV Access Services Code, and give advice on how they can ensure they are of a high-quality and easy to use in our best practice guidelines.

To make sure access services are working for the people who rely on them, we are proposing a number of changes to our Code, including making clear to broadcasters that:

  • access services must be of a good enough quality to count towards the targets that broadcasters must meet; and
  • when something goes wrong with access services, broadcasters must make every effort to tell their viewers what is going on and keep them up to date;

We are also proposing to expand our best practice guidance to include, for the first time, video-on-demand providers such as ITV X and Channel 4, and subscription services like Now and Amazon Prime Video. Our approach will focus on outcomes for audiences, allowing the use of a range of technologies We are also strengthening the guidance by offering additional advice on areas including:

  • serving people with cognitive and neurodevelopmental disabilities;
  • alternative means of making programmes accessible (for example, improving dialogue audibility for people with hearing loss); and
  • customisation, options and choice for viewers.

We are now inviting views on our proposals which must be submitted to by 21 September 2023.

Our consultation is available in British Sign Language (BSL), and people can also respond to it by BSL. A plain-English summary is also available.

Update on accessibility of on-screen programme guides

Separately today, Ofcom has published its annual update on improvements made to the accessibility of electronic programme guides (EPGs).

EPGs are on-screen menus that tell people what TV programmes are available to help them plan their viewing and discover new programmes.

But people with hearing and visual impairments can often experience particular difficulties when using them, meaning their viewing choices may be unnecessarily restricted, and they could miss out on finding programmes.

Our report finds that, in the last year, most providers have improved or extended the availability of accessibility features set out in the EPG Code. These features are: text-to-speech, highlighting or filtering, magnification and high-contrast displays. In summary:

  • All four accessibility features are available on Freeview (Everyone TV) EPGs via its Accessible TV Guide.
  • Freesat (Everyone TV) lags behind Freeview, with only one feature available in full on certain devices. We expect to see further progress in next year’s report.
  • Virgin Media now offers all four accessibility features and Sky offers three of the four.  Sky and Virgin Media both have extended, or have plans to further extend availability in the coming year; and
  • Two accessibility features are available,  on YouView devices, remaining unchanged since our last report. We’ve been clear that YouView should consider accessibility requirements in any future product developments of updates.

We also report findings from our consumer research and interviews conducted with some RNIB members to understand their experience in navigating to TV and on-demand programmes, whether via the EPG or in other ways. This underlines the importance of accessible service design to support audiences in a more fragmented media landscape.

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