An example of bad subtitling "I have two little boys, Oliver who is 11, and phrase whore is 10"

Deaf awareness week – we want subtitles for ‘on demand’ and catch-up’ TV and film!

Johanna Taylor is a Senior Campaigner at Action on Hearing Loss, where she works on campaigns to improve access to TV and digital entertainment, protect NHS hearing aid services and to introduce a national hearing screening programme.

Here she explains why subtitling is so important, as part of Deaf Awareness Week. 

Ed Miller Band instead of Ed Miliband. Ayatollahs instead of toddlers. When we see subtitles in the news, the topic is most likely to be live subtitling ‘howlers’ like these – but they’re not so amusing for people with hearing loss who rely on subtitles to follow dialogue and plot.

“I, and others like me, should have the freedom of choice to watch and enjoy programmes in the same way as everyone else, on any device at any time, with subtitles and audio descriptions provided as standard – and we deserve this choice sooner rather than later.” Tania Le Marinel, hearing aid wearer

Johanna has dark hair, wears glasses and is smiling in front of a Action on Hearing Loss bannerAt Action on Hearing Loss subtitling is the issue that people most get in touch with us about, with inaccuracies and delays being a source of massive frustration. But there’s more going on behind the scenes to improve things than these news stories might suggest.
We have long been campaigning to improve the quality of subtitles, and in 2013 there was a breakthrough when Ofcom announced that it would be launching a two year review of the quality of live subtitling. This has led to closer partnerships between broadcasters, production and subtitling companies and increased sharing and use of scripts to reduce delays and improve accuracy, particularly in programmes like the news.

We’ve also seen a reduction in the number of programmes going out with live subtitles that could have been prepared in advance – the BBC recently revealed to us that while 155 pre-recorded programmes were subtitled live in 2013, 2014 saw this figure almost halved.

Broadcasters playing ‘catch up’ with catch up TV

But what happens when someone with hearing loss wants to get up to speed on the soaps using ‘catch up’ TV or enjoy a streamed film?

The answer? They often can’t. A major factor in this is that unlike traditional TV accessibility of Video on Demand (VOD) services are not covered by legislation, meaning there is no obligation on providers to include subtitles.

While the BBC is leading the way and offering subtitles on iPlayer across thousands of devices and platforms, they are the exception. This is unacceptable to viewers with hearing loss who feel like they are receiving a second class service.

A report by the regulator the Authority for Television on Demand (ATVOD), shows that no subtitles can be found on the ITV player, 4oD or Demand 5 when shown on popular television platforms such as Sky, Virgin and BT Vision (YouView), who have a combined UK customer base of over 14 million people. The same report shows that over 96% of Sky’s ‘on demand’ content has no subtitles.

Subtitle it! Whatever we watch, however we watch it.

But there’s an important opportunity on the horizon for the Government to take action to improve access for the UK’s 7.5 million subtitle users.

Back in July 2013 the Department for Culture Media and Sport promised to consider legislation on access services for video on demand three years from then if it is clear that progress is not being made – and in 2016 it’s crunch time. Access services cover audio description for those with sight loss as well as subtitles for those with hearing loss.

In response to this opportunity we’ll be launching a new campaign which will call on Government and broadcasters to “Subtitle it! Whatever we watch, however we watch it”. With the help of our supporters, after the election we’ll be calling on the new Minister responsible for broadcasting to set progress targets. And if no progress has been made by this December – when ATVOD’s next report is due out – we will be strengthening our call for legislation.

Do you rely on subtitles, or do you know someone who does? Please join the Subtitle it! campaign today. Thank you for your support.

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