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Access to broadcast and on-demand content: Time to Catch Up!

"Subtitles do make a big difference, because you are able to keep up with everything that's going on.  Even watching films, you can share with your friends, you can talk about it.  Without subtitles, you can feel completely shut out."

Paula, 43, hearing impaired, London

“[Audio description is a] huge benefit because it's like somebody reading you a story, and you've …seen the story unfold and [can keep] up with it…”

Claire, 65, visually impaired, Scotland


Our latest research (PDF 563KB, opens in a new window) looks at the availability, awareness and use of access services - defined as subtitling, sign language and audio description - for television services in the UK.  Although more people are watching TV via 'catch up' or on-demand programming, there are proportionally fewer accessible programmes for those with a sensory impairment than are available on traditional 'linear' or time-specific TV: 68% of on-demand programming did not offer any accessibility provision.

Our research overall highlights an appetite for greater provision of access services across the media landscape, but our qualitative interviews also strongly suggest there is a need for more awareness of what there is available, greater knowledge on how to use it, and improvements to the quality of output.


Based on the research, the Panel make the following recommendations, which fall into five categories:

  • Availability
  • Awareness
  • Quality
  • Technology
  • Complaints and feedback


  • On-demand programme service providers should be required to have an equivalently high percentage of subtitling as their associated scheduled TV channels, or be given equivalent targets to broadcasters providing similar content on scheduled TV, if a standalone channel;
  • All paid-for services should disclose at or before the point of sale the percentage of programming that has: a) signing; b) subtitling; and, c) audio description;
  • Consideration should be given to increasing the requirement on audio description and signed content;
  • Broadcasters and providers should make clear to consumers their criteria for providing access services, when and on what platforms they are available, to assist users in understanding availability and making viewing decisions; and
  • If for any reason audio description or subtitling is not available when previously advertised or in a continuous series, broadcasters should explain why and apologise clearly, and in an appropriate format.


  • All stakeholders, including Ofcom, communications providers, broadcasters, retailers, platform providers and charities should work together to promote access services and adaptive technology to the general public, not just to those with visual or hearing impairment; and all stakeholders should work together to make guidance and support available for users in how to activate and use on-screen and voice menus and access services across devices;
  • When subscribing to a service or registering on a platform providers should ask about any sensory impairment requirements during the registration process and supply help guides and advice as appropriate - and enable users to update their information;
  • Broadcasters and platform providers should promote the personalisation options of EPGs, where available;
  • Providers should better promote access services available for programmes online, through programme guides and at the start of transmissions;
  • Retailers should train staff regarding the access service options of hardware they sell; and
  • Broadcasters should consider the development of independent audio description streams, similar to that available in cinemas.


  • Broadcasters and Ofcom should give top priority to providing a technical solution to the problem of latency in live subtitling as soon as possible;
  • Broadcasters and programme makers should improve the accuracy of subtitles; and
  • Providers should focus on greater pre-transmission review of subtitles, to ensure they don't obscure important information, and consider the placement of on-screen captions and graphics to lessen the need for subtitles to be raised and lowered around them.


  • Ofcom should pursue the Panel’s previous recommendations[1] on improvements to EPGs;
  • Industry should design technology that allows access services to work on all platforms;
  • Providers should add an 'accessibility' filtering option on EPGs;
  • Hardware providers should work together with broadcasters to agree standardised locations and designs for access service tools such as buttons on remotes, menus on screen, speech capability and compatibility with screen readers; and
  • Broadcasters should consider developing imagery to represent sounds to avoid lengthy subtitles; for example, an icon for 'phone ringing' or 'the sound of footsteps'. Broadcasters should continue to develop technology so that viewers can personalise the way subtitles and audio description appear, especially online or with on-demand services and work to standardise this technology.


  • Broadcasters should make clear to viewers how to report any errors in access service provision; and
  • Broadcasters should proactively seek the views of sensory-impaired audience members on quality and regularly review feedback, utilising the feedback to ensure they meet audience needs.

You can find out more in our cover report, Access to broadcast and on-demand content: Time to Catch Up! (PDF 563KB, opens in a new window), and in the accompanying full research (PDF 1.24MB, opens in a new window) report by Kantar and associated data tables; data table 1 (PDF 2.95MB, opens in a new window) and data table 2 (PDF 1.41MB, opens in a new window).

Mynediad i gynnwys a ddarlledir a chynnwys ar-alwad: Amser dal i fyny!

Crynodeb gweithredol (PDF 287KB, yn agor ar dudalen newydd)

Argymhellion (PDF 332KB, yn agor ar dudalen newydd)

[1] http://www.communicationsconsumerpanel.org.uk/downloads/epg-code-amendments-oct-2015-final.pdf

If you have any difficulties accessing content on this page, please email us at contact@communicationsconsumerpanel.org.uk