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2022 review: How accessible was our TV?

Here is our roundup of the important news that has happened in TV and Video on Demand (VOD) accessibility in the past year.

A person holding a remote control in front of a TV.

Samsung renews Tried and Tested accreditation

Samsung was the first television manufacturer to be awarded RNIB’s Tried and Tested accreditation back in 2020 and they have retained the commitment in their 2022 line-up. Tried and Tested is one of the most stringent accessibility accreditation schemes available for sight loss so this is a huge achievement and marks Samsung TV’s as best in class.

Accessibility not Paramount on new VOD services

Accessibility is starting to be taken seriously in VOD with some level of audio description being available on almost all the major streaming platforms. Despite this, Paramount and Discovery have little to no audio description on their streaming platforms, Paramount plus and Discovery plus, in the UK. This is despite Paramount delivering audio description (AD) for US audiences. This is likely to be because of a lack of any legal requirement to audio describe Video on Demand content in the UK.

AD on VOD still only voluntary

A lot happened in UK politics in 2022 but one thing that still hasn’t happened is any legislation being put in place for audio description on Video on Demand content.

It has been five years since the passing of the Digital Economy Bill that paved the way for access service quotas for video on demand services. DCMS (the department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) have still not passed the Act that would allow Ofcom to set quotas for audio description on video on demand services.

RNIB and RNID held a joint meeting with Julia Lopez MP, the Minister of State for DCMS. Ms Lopez restated a commitment to introducing the quotas but said this would need to be part of the next piece of media related legislation. It is not clear when this will be so we’ll continue to push broadcasters and streamers to provide audio description despite the lack of any legal requirement.

Netflix Slips

Ever since Daredevil debuted with some iconic audio description Netflix has been seen as a leader in accessibility. That reputation was dented in 2022, however. Season 6 of Better Call Saul had no audio description until 10 weeks after it first aired despite previous seasons being audio described from the beginning.

This may be a taste of things to come if legislation forces streaming services such as Netflix to be accountable to Ofcom. One of the biggest causes of content ‘losing’ audio description is that the content has been recut for different channels or to meet regional legislation. If legislation requires content to be reworked for a British audience, then this could make the original AD track unusable and whether it is then re-described will be a real test of global streamers’ commitment to audio description in the UK. Legislation to bring the obligations for streaming services in line with obligations for broadcasters was suggested in the first half of this year although quite a bit has changed since then.

Netflix have been moving forward in other areas though. Triviaverse, a new interactive game on the streaming service, is set up to work with screen readers. With an increasing interest in games and interactive experiences among audiences, including people with vision impairments, this provision once again demonstrated Netflix’s expertise in delivering accessible and inclusive experiences.

Broadcast of The Queen’s funeral

The death of Queen Elizabeth II was an event of national mourning with a quarter of a million people queueing up to file past the coffin and even more viewing coverage of the funeral online. Despite the enormity of the occasion none of the TV coverage was made accessible to blind and partially sighted people. With no audio description and no accommodation in the standard commentary, which could have incorporated descriptions of the scenes, blind and partially sighted people were unable to watch the ceremony alongside sighted peers and instead had to listen to coverage on the radio.

Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II receiving flowers from a child at an event in 1993.

At a time when the nation was coming together to watch the proceedings on TV blind and partially sighted people should not have had to sit apart. As RNIB’s royal patron Queen Elizabeth was particularly important to many blind and partially sighted people so it is disappointing that the broadcast of her funeral was not made accessible to people with vision impairments who rely on audio description to watch TV.

Crazy in Love with BBC Sounds

You might think that, as an audio driven platform, BBC Sounds would not be the obvious choice for a music video but if you’re audio describing Single Ladies by Beyoncé it starts to make a lot more sense. BBC Sounds have produced bundles of audio described music videos for Beyoncé, Adele, Billie Eilish, Ariana Grande, Ed Sheeran and Harry Styles. Is this something you would listen to, and which music video would you like to hear an audio description of? Let us (and the BBC) know your thoughts on Twitter and Facebook.

World cup wins and woes

The 2022 Football World Cup has been a huge talking point whether you are into football or international politics. Blind people’s access to sport, and particularly Football, is something we’ve been pushing for and the BBC found a novel solution. Blind viewers have been able to listen to BBC Five live radio commentary synchronised to the video through their red button which has been well received by blind and partially sighted people. With no radio stations and no audio description or enhanced commentary, coverage on ITV hasn’t had the same level of accessibility.

Meanwhile BT Sports have kept their position at the top of the accessibility leaderboard by, again, audio describing the FA Disability Cup. With the website looking to sign a British Sign Language commentator for the 2023 season BT Sports truly are the team to beat.

ITVX The Launch

The last months of 2022 saw the launch of ITV’s new VOD service ITVX. ITVX hosts a mix of free to view and paid content but more importantly shows the commitment to audio description and accessibility that was missing from Britbox, the joint venture between ITV and the BBC.

ITVX currently carries Audio Description on Amazon Fire, Apple TV, Samsung, Chromecast (iOS) and Sky Glass and had a target of 20% audio description at launch. They are working on getting ITVX on to other platforms and making sure the apps themselves are high contrast and accessible to screenreaders. ITVX may become one of the most accessible broadcaster led VOD apps in the UK and we will be watching its progress with interest.

Thank you

That’s it for 2022. Thank you to all those who have worked hard to make their media and culture services accessible for people with vision impairments. We will see you in 2023!

If you want to get in touch and discuss access to media and culture services, please email [email protected].