On 30 April 2014, Ofcom published its first report relating to the quality of live TV subtitles provided by broadcasters in the UK.
Subtitles are used by over a million people with hearing impairments to watch TV. Ofcom last year required broadcasters to start reporting on the quality of live subtitles to identify areas for improvement. The report samples the accuracy, speed and latency - the delay between speech and the corresponding subtitle appearing - of live TV subtitles.
Viewers reported to Ofcom that poor latency is one of the most frustrating aspects of live subtitling. Samples of BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky programmes showed that the median latency exceeds almost twice the recommended guideline of a maximum 3 seconds delay. Ofcom will ask broadcasters to consider how latency can be reduced.
It is the first of four reports on live subtitling to be produced by Ofcom over a two-year period.
On the very same day, Ofcom has also published its annual report on the development of TV ‘access services’, i.e. the subtitling, signing and audio description of programmes for viewers with hearing and sight impairments. The number of channels required to provide TV access services increased from 22 in 2004 to 76 channels in 2013, which account for over 90% of total TV viewing. Between 2005 and 2013, subtitled hours doubled from 40.5% to 81.9% of hours of programming broadcast, audio description increased four-fold (from 5.9 % to 23.3%), and signing rose from 1.8% to 5.6% for channels required to provide access services.