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Accessibility: Ofcom's proposals to improve the quality of subtitling

posted on 17 May, 2013   (public)

On 17 May, Ofcom has published proposals for consultation aimed at improving live subtitling to provide a better viewing experience for people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing in the UK. While pre-prepared subtitling is generally of a good quality, viewers have made clear that there are continuing problems concerning live TV subtitling. The main problems are:

  • latency – the delay between speech and live subtitling;
  • inaccuracy – mistakes that vary from minor spelling errors to major omissions or misleading subtitles;
  • intermittent subtitles, which freeze or disappear for unpredictable reasons; and
  • presentation – whether subtitles are shown scrolling across the screen or in more readable blocks containing one or more sentences.

Under the current Code on Television Access Services, TV broadcasters that attract a certain audience level must provide subtitles and they have to provide information to Ofcom on the amount of subtitling they provide. 70 channels now provide subtitling and the amount has risen from 10% on most channels to 80% or more in 2013. Ofcom is now proposing that they also report on the quality of their subtitles. Therefore, Ofcom is proposing to publish reports every six months on:

  • key measures of quality – the speed and accuracy of subtitling and the length of delays between speech and subtitling;
  • the number of programmes that are accepted later than the intended ‘delivery date’, resulting in live subtitling, which can be of lower quality, rather than pre-prepared subtitles; and
  • technical failures that may have occurred.

Ofcom is also asking broadcasters and others for views on the feasibility of delaying live programmes for a short period of time (a few seconds) to improve the quality of live subtitling. Ofcom’s consultation closes on 25 July 2013. A statement on the outcome is expected by late 2013 or early 2014.

Source: Ofcom Website