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Audio description on BBC

Richard Kurzik, Senior Service Manager for Access Services at the BBC talks about audio description (AD) at BBC.

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

The audience is at the heart of everything the BBC does. As the national broadcaster, making our programmes, digital products and services accessible is central to us serving the public and achieving our core mission to inform, educate and entertain everyone.

Back in 1979, the BBC was the first broadcaster to use the still new Ceefax technology to provide subtitles on a documentary about deaf children called "Quietly in Switzerland." Another first followed in 1986 when Blue Peter was the first live programme to benefit from subtitles. Today the BBC routinely subtitles 100 per cent of programmes across our regulated TV channels.

In 2000 the BBC took advantage of burgeoning technology to launch its audio description service which has gone from strength to strength since its inception. While the BBC has voluntarily committed to provide 20 per cent of its programme content with audio description, in reality, the service is delivered on many more programmes.

"Last year audio description was available on over 22 per cent of programmes on BBC One whilst on BBC Four almost 40 per cent of programmes were audio described."

In 2008 the BBC iPlayer launched and not only delivered full accessibility to its interface it was available with subtitles and signed content, with Audio Description following soon after in 2009. This was the first fully accessible VOD service. The learnings from this enabled the BBC to develop digital accessibility guidelines ensuring it’s online and mobile products maintain a high standard for accessibility.

As audience habits evolve and online viewing expands it is vital the BBC builds on the solid foundations of the broadcast service; this represents the next big challenge. Currently, any programme that is broadcast with audio description is available with AD on the BBC iPlayer. Of the programmes on iPlayer from our regulated, broadcast channels, almost 30 per cent are available with audio descriptions. However, the BBC team are now working on developments that will soon allow the audio description to be available on box sets and on iPlayer premiers. In the longer term, they hope to make audio descriptions available on the iPlayer live stream of the BBC TV channels. These developments will help ensure the BBC’s programmes and products continue to be accessible to our blind and partially sighted audience as we move into the digital-first future.

Further Information

Visit our audio description page to find out more, you can also watch BBC's audio description advert created as part of a campaign to raise awareness about audio description.