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RNIB Broadcast Content Project 2023

The aim of this study was to evaluate the current level of audio description (AD) on British television, specifically on Freeview channels. We looked at a 3-day period containing both weekend days and weekdays (from 19th November to 21st November 2023) to gather a larger variety of programmes.

Photo: A hand pointing a TV remote control towards a television screen.

The programming schedule was obtained from the TV Guide website, while the AD data was obtained from TV Help. In total the study comprised of 2265 programmes from 28 Freeview channels.

We found that overall, 33% of programmes were audio described, while 57% of programmes were accessible, meaning they had either AD or integrated description. The programmes were split into 20 genres, and each was analysed separately.

The three most accessible genres were ‘News’, ‘Studio talk Shows’ and ‘Weather’. Each had 100% accessibility thanks to having integrated description since they are audio-led genres. However, there are still improvements to be made, namely that important text displayed on screen in not always accessible due to poor colour contrast and illegible fonts used for on screen graphics.

‘Sports’ was the least accessible genre, with just 3% accessibility. This was due to having a large number of live broadcasts which are typically not audio described and are not inherently accessible. There were exceptions particularly on the BBC but more broadcasts must utilise enhanced commentary to increase accessibility.

‘Film’ and ‘Drama’ were 35% and 44% accessible respectively. These genres are capable of reaching 100% accessibility since AD works successfully for these genres without any barriers. Additionally, films that had AD upon cinema release should always be broadcast with it in the future.

This study was a follow up from a similar 2021 study by RNIB that analysed the accessibility of programmes not only on Freeview channels, but satellite and cable as well. By isolating the Freeview channels in that study, a direct comparison can be made to determine how accessibility has changed between 2021 and 2023.

The 2021 study found that 32% of programmes were audio described and 54% were accessible (compared to 33% and 57% respectively in 2023). This slight improvement indicates that networks are at least moving in the right direction and have continued to value the experience of their blind and partially sighted viewers in recent years.

However, the improvement is arguably too slow, especially when looking at individual genres. For example, ‘Sports’ saw no improvement between the two studies despite it being one of the least accessible genres. Additionally, accessibility of ‘Films’ and ‘Drama’ did not improve overall even though AD has long been the solution, indicating that one of the major setbacks to achieving widespread TV accessibility is simply a matter of allocating adequate resources.

This study was carried out by Matthew Rawson, a BSc Biology graduate who joined the Media, Culture and Immersive Technologies Team at RNIB for 10 weeks as part of the See Work Differently Work Placement Scheme.

For more details on this project, please email [email protected].