Why we now need regulation for access services on On-Demand TV more than ever

Post date: 
Friday, 15 November 2019
Category: 
TV, Radio and Film
Remote control in the foreground pointing at a blurred TV screen

In the first half of 2019, just over 75 per cent of the programming on Channel 4's E4 was broadcast with audio description (AD).

That is an astounding number and no doubt achieved with an equally astoundingly high number of repeats but if that is the nature of the channel then at least the broadcaster must be thanked for ensuring that once the description was produced, it was delivered on all broadcasts.

Further to this, another few channels namely including Boomerang, Cartoon Network, ITV3 and Alibi had AD on over 50 per cent of the content, and yet another five on over 40 per cent of their content.

On average, just over 30 per cent of TV programmes and films were broadcast with AD across 71 channels on UK TV during these months.

The report on access services delivered on UK television published by Ofcom last week certainly gives the reader a sense of progress and hope that finally things are improving even with the extremely low requirement of 10 percent as mandated under the Communications Act 2003. However, that is only until one reaches the section that reports on the access services delivered by on-demand programme service providers where no legal requirements have been published by the Government as yet.

Out of the 79 services listed on the Ofcom website, only 15 delivered AD and that is on just a small selection of platforms. Going-up from the lowest provision of 0.46 per cent by BT on BT TV to about 2 per cent on Sky Go and finally, to just over 45 per cent delivered by Turner Broadcasting on TalkTalk TV. ITV comes-in second with just over 30 per cent on its Android app closely followed by Channel 4 with just over 27 percent but across 4 platforms - website, app on iOS and Android and its own website.

Market leaders that aren’t included in this report give us hope that things will improve. BBC iPlayer has led on the provision of AD since it was launched on the service in 2009 and Netflix and Apple+ take an innovative approach and seamlessly integrate access services. For now however, provision of AD is still a guessing game for viewers who rely on it and the only way for achieving greater consistency seems to be introducing specific legal requirements such as those that exist for the linear broadcast.

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For more information on audio description, please visit www.rnib.org.uk/ad