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  • iheartsubtitles 1:18 pm on May 2, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Ofcom, , , , ,   

    Subtitles for VOD, whose responsibility is it anyway? 

    UK based charities behind the #SubtitleIt campaign received a letter from Ed Vaizey, Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy. It was not the response that the campaign had hoped for.

    Action on Hearing Loss have summarised:

    Mr Vaizey has told us that, during autumn 2015, Department for Culture, Media and Sport officials met with platform operators, content providers and broadcasters, and that the discussions gave clarity into the problems limiting the availability of access services and what’s needed to improve provision levels.

    The Minister has concluded that a lot has been achieved by broadcasters, content providers and platform operators towards increasing the provision of subtitles, and that “the 2013 commitment is being met”. He states that the introduction of legislation and the prescription of targets “could have a detrimental impact on what the sector has shown it is able to achieve on a voluntary basis”. In short, he has refused to take decisive action to end the digital exclusion faced by people with hearing loss due to the lack of subtitles.

    SOURCE: Action on Hearing Loss – Government decision on subtitles, April 2016

    And the crux of the issue:

    Mr Vaizey states that it was “encouraging to hear that several players throughout the supply chain of access services are working together” to overcome problems that limit the availability of access services.

    In reaching this opinion Ed Vaizey has ignored the evidence of the regulator, ATVOD. They reported that a “stalemate” persists between the broadcasters (content providers) who provide the programmes (e.g. ITV and UKTV) and the set top box operators (platforms) who pull together content from lots of different providers (e.g. Sky and Virgin), and a lack of clarity about whose responsibility it is to make content accessible.

    SOURCE: Action on Hearing Loss – Government decision on subtitles, April 2016

    This issue keeps cropping up. Whose responsibility is it?

    Netflix who do subtitle the majority of its content have published an article on their subtitling workflow. It’s interesting to read how Netflix tackles the problem of different devices requiring different formats, and how different languages can sometimes require different rendering capabilities that may not always be available on the device being used by the end user, and how before all of that is tackled, quality control checks are put in place. They have chosen to take on much of the responsibility in the sense that if a content provider does not provide a subtitle file in the correct format, they have invested in systems to overcome the problem and solve the problem of different devices requiring subtitles in different formats (phones, tablets, smart TVs, PC etc) The industry has made similar steps in this regard to with agreeing industry standard subtitling formats (such as EBU-TT which the UK regulator recommends is adopted). BBC iPlayer have also subtitled content as the “norm” for years and have very detailed guidelines documented here. I haven’t found many other articles on this subject, but it would appear the iTunes platform in the US have taken responsibility – sort of. It’s not that the platform is saying it will take responsibility to provide closed captioning, but iTunes (US) will remove content supplied by providers if they have failed to include a closed captioning file. It’s an interesting tactic, but its a move that I feel reflects regulatory requirements in the US, rather than a bold statement from Apple that they will only accept accessible content. (If anyone disagree’s with this conclusion – please do comment).

    Blackboard with a chart written in chalk saying if not us who? if not now when? if not here where?

    VOD subtitles – whose responsibility is it?

    So, back to the question, whose responsibility is it, and what is the right way to ensure accessibility via subtitling and captioning is implemented for VOD services? It’s a question the FCC in the US asked, and also recently answered. The UK VOD industry currently does not have this clarity, and the regulator cannot set it. In the interest of full transparency I should point out to those who are reading who may not be aware, I’ve been employed by a broadcaster, and a platform in my career so far. Whilst I have some insight into the differing workflows – it doesn’t make the answer to the question any easier except to say if both work together (that is a platform makes sure it has no barriers to access and can support accessibility features, and a broadcaster can provide those features (e.g. provide subtitle files / audio description files with its video content), it can be solved. I don’t necessarily think its and either/or answer here. The responsibility probably lies with both. Yes, there are challenges which some broadcasters will face more than others, and there are some platforms that will find it easier to do than others (for various reasons: do they make their own programmes, do they buy them from other content providers, do they control the full end-to-end chain? Has the platform been built to support accessibility features or do they have to tackle that first? etc) But it is absolutely technically possible for any VOD service to provide an accessible service. We know that, there are good guys who have been doing this for ages. The question is, how time-critical is this goal considered to be by either one of these parties? If it even is a goal for those services which are not accessible? Why not set a (regulatory) target – no goal is ever reached without setting a deadline. And whatever well-meaning action is currently being taken by VOD services that are planning to add accessibility features, if you need them, the progress certainly does not feel fast enough. And that is why Action on Hearing Loss are continuing their #SubtitleIt campaign, encouraging anyone who relies on subtitles to enjoy VOD services to contact their TV providers. The charity will also be targeting those working in the VOD industry by giving a talk at the VOD Summit taking place in London next month.

    • Robyn Carter 1:45 pm on May 2, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      Facing similar problems x 10 here


    • Probably shouldn't say 12:24 am on May 3, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      I don’t believe that any such “stalemate” exists – in most cases the providers of VOD content are the same TV channels who already create and provide subtitles on their broadcast TV channels. The problem is wholly with the TV platform providers – Sky, Virgin, YouView, etc. I work for a VOD content provider and we have never been able to get the platform providers to accept subtitled content – they are just not interested.

      ATVOD failed because they pressured the content providers to provide subtitles, but ATVOD had no power over the platforms. If the platforms don’t provide the ability to carry subtitles (and AD) then no content provider can offer accessible content, end of story. This is why even BBC iPlayer content – accessible nearly everywhere else – has no subtitles or AD when viewed on-demand on Sky or the non-TiVo Virgin platform.


      • iheartsubtitles 7:00 am on May 3, 2016 Permalink | Reply

        Thanks for your comment. I do believe it takes work from both content providers and platforms. It’s frustrating to hear that a content provider wants to be accessible but has difficulties in getting platforms to support accessibility features 😦


    • Dean 2:48 pm on May 10, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      Another great article Dawn. This is such a contentious issue. Sadly, the technology is available for VOD content to carry subtitles but it’s difficult to get the platform providers to engage with it as there’s no legislation. Also frustrating is that my local MP when approached never backed the Action On Hearing Loss SubtitleIT campaign, and turned down my offer to talk to her about the available technology. I don’t see this happening any time soon.


    • Nathalie 11:15 am on December 1, 2016 Permalink | Reply


      I came across this blog because i am doing my thesis on music subtitling. You have lots of very interesting information here!
      I am looking for any info I can get on music genres in music subtitles. Would you be familiar with anything/any styleguide being used anywhere? Is there any “reference list” used anywhere, is this being practiced? I can’t really find anything in my world of academia..especially not in German subtitling (which is what I am looking into)
      I’d be happy for any help I can get.


    • Jodene Antoniou 9:35 am on June 7, 2017 Permalink | Reply

      Hi Dawn, nice article!

      I believe a lot of the issues really come down to price. There is a huge gap in the market between incredibly cheap automated subtitling which is of a very poor quality and subtitles that are written by professionals but are incredibly expensive.

      Converting between subtitle formats is relatively simple with professional software and subtitles should be supported on most platforms. Most companies, including the BBC are shifting away from EBU-STL subtitles and more into Timed Text that can be used on more platforms. But supplying subtitles for all formats is still a cost and it’s far too tempting for providers to choose not to save money and not use VoD subtitles when still not all platforms support them.

      I have a son who has moderate hearing loss, and run a subtitling and closed captioning company, http://www.capitalcaptions.com. Our subtitles are ALWAYS written by professionals but offered at reasonable prices in order to encourage more TV providers to utilise them for all formats. But without the platform providers also taking responsibility soon, real changes are going to take a very long time.


  • iheartsubtitles 11:57 pm on January 16, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Ofcom, , , , , , ,   

    A look back at 2015 

    2015 saw a lot of accessibility advocacy around subtitles/captioning and audio description with some great victories. This is by no means a complete list but it does summarise some of the highlights for me.

    Amazon Instant Video UK finally started added subtitles to their VOD service after some great advocacy which had its origins in the Love Subtitles campaign.  In 2014, there were no subtitles at all, and by the end of 2015, approximately 50% of its content is subtitled (see ATVOD report detailed later in this article). Let’s hope that percentage figure continues to rise in 2016 .

    Animated gif of Matt Murdock aka Daredevil

    Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix

    Netflix US / UK found itself the target of an advocacy campaign to add audio description to its content after it released an original series about a blind superhero Daredevil based on the Marvel comic book character of the same name without making it accessible to blind and visually impaired viewers. Thanks to the efforts of The Accessible Netflix Project,  there was a pretty fast response from Netflix in releasing audio description tracks for this series and more on its platform.

    The Action On Hearing Loss #SubtitleIt! campaign succesfully obtained a public comittment from Sky that it would increase the amount of  subtitled VOD content on it’s services by summer 2016 following a petition from Jamie Danjoux. I think a lot of people will be watching this one closely and look forward to seeing the comittment being met in 2016.

    All of these campaigns are far from over and many are continuing their advocacy into 2016. The #SubtitleIt campaign just published a useful summary of ATVOD’s final report  (before being taken over by Ofcom) into the Provision of Access Services published at the end of 2015.

    There were many other interesting publications around accessibility in 2015:

    There were many other successful advocacy and awareness campaigns in 2015.

    I had great fun taking part in the UK’s first #CAPaware week launched by Stagetext to celebrate its 15th birthday which amongst many activities that week included tweeting alongside watching a captioned play from Digital Theatre.

    Turn On The Captions Now  was a campaign that successfully passed a local city law in Portland, Oregon USA which states that all public televisions in public areas such as bars and restaurants must have closed captioning switched on. The Portland: Turn On The Captions Now! group have since published a website that includes instructions for turning on closed captions and advice for Portland residents on how to request captions if they spot non-compliance.

    American Airlines showed everyone how not to respond to a query on social media to a request for closed captioning to be made available on their in-flight entertainment.  It lead to a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #DeafInTheAir

    But it wasn’t just airlines, Braam Jordaan was successfull in getting the White House to make its video content accessible with a campaign predominantly on Twitter using the hashtag #WHccNow

    In fact it seems when it comes to social media, (whisper it carefully, I don’t want to jinx it) but it seems that the knowledge that subtitling and captioning your video media leads to other benefits outside of accessibility is starting to become mainstream. Video marketing websites have been quick to report research showing that adding subtitles can increase the video completion rate and  the video share rate. I for one have noticed more and more videos on social media with auto-play *and* open subtitles.  I hope that this trend continues as it can only lead to more accessible content online for everyone. Roll on 2016…


  • iheartsubtitles 4:00 pm on October 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Ofcom,   

    #SubtitleIt campaign and other UK regulatory news 

    Earlier this year Action on Hearing loss created a survey to gather the experiences and thoughts of subtitle users access to video on demand (VOD) services in the UK.  The results have been published and the report titled Progress on Pause is well worth a read.

    It’s part of the #SubtitleIt campaign which is a joint effort from multiple UK charities that wants to see VOD accessibility regulated as a mandatory requirement as is currently the case in the UK for linear TV.  Individual advocates alongside the charities efforts has resulted in some success so far including a statement from Sky to commit to increasing their on demand subtitled content.

    Graphic of Houses of Parliament and #SubtitleIt logo

    The deadline to ask your MP to back the bill is November 2015.

    The campaign is far from over however. For any legislation to become a reality, it needs support from MPs. If you do not see your local MP listed here please write to them asking them to back the bill. (Note this also includes other important accessibility features such as audio description and signing). Please don’t miss the deadline.

    ATVOD logo

    From 1st January 2016, ATVOD will no longer exist as a co-regulator and its responsibilities will be carried out by Ofcom

    In other regulatory news that effects VOD services in the UK, the regulatory body Ofcom announced that it would take over the role of ATVOD:

    The regulation of ‘video-on-demand’ programme services is being brought fully within Ofcom to sit alongside its regulation of broadcast content.

    The move follows an Ofcom review to ensure regulation of broadcast and on-demand content remains as effective and efficient as possible for the benefit of consumers, audiences and industry.

    The review included the current co-regulatory arrangements for video-on-demand services. These can include catch-up TV and on-demand services on the TV and the internet. Ofcom designated the Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD) in 2010 as a co-regulator to take the lead in regulating editorial content for video-on-demand services.

    Following the review, Ofcom has decided that acting as sole regulator for video-on-demand programmes is a more effective model for the future than having two separate bodies carrying out this work. This will create operational efficiencies and allow editorial content on video-on-demand to sit alongside Ofcom’s existing regulation of broadcasting.

    SOURCE: Ofcom brings regulation of ‘video-on-demand’ in-house

    This (in my opinion) is good news. It means a far less confusing regulatory model and that all TV will sit under the same regulator.   Ofcom recently published its results into access services on UK TV for the first six months of 2015.  With Ofcom to take over the duties of ATVOD in 2016, wouldn’t it be great if we could have the same level of transparency on how each VOD service is performing with more regular (and legally required) statistical reporting on levels of access services here too?

    • virginia 12:15 am on January 4, 2016 Permalink | Reply

      Hi there,

      I’ve read a few of your posts as have been researching ‘live captions’ for news websites. The live captions to display on a screen would read a bit gobblydeegook if you know what I mean? So they are in a flat text file, so the image you show in the post below “How subtitles add value, not just access” about Video Metadata.

      Any thoughts on how best to display this for news stories and videos that have not been captioned properly? Was thinking of an accordian drop down.

      Obviously this is a big SEO plus if it can be done correctly.

      The video content has to remain on the actual news website.



      • iheartsubtitles 12:09 pm on January 6, 2016 Permalink | Reply

        Hi Virginia – Are you talking about live news being captioned online when it is no longer live, or are you looking to improve live captioning of live news? If so this is something that is in its infancy compared to other media that is captioned or subtitled online.


  • iheartsubtitles 4:54 pm on December 22, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Ofcom, , production, ,   

    Accessible film making or what if subtitles were part of the programme? 

    I was prompted to write this blog post by a recent tweet from director Samuel Dore who bemoaned the fact that he felt that film directors and distributors seem to ‘moan’ about the cost of subtitling content:

    And I’ve seen tweets from others with comments of a similar nature.  This is a tricky topic because it would be wrong to label everyone individual or company out there as having this belief or attitude. However it’s another repeated theme I’ve seen discussed at access and language conferences this year.  That’s a good thing – it means its recognised as a potential issue for some companies or individuals and others in the same industry are challenging this assumption and trying to change it.  At the 2014 CSI Accessibility Conference Screen Subtitling’s John Birch asked the question “What if subtitles were part of the programme?”  He pointed out that in his opinion funding issues are still not addressed. Subtitling is still not a part of the production process and not often budgeted for. Broadcasters are required to pay subtitling companies,and subtitling companies are under continued to pressure (presumably to provide more, for less money). It is a sad fact that subtitling is not ascribed the value it deserves.

    I would also argue that there is some lost opportunity with the current Ofcom Code on Access Television Services that gives new TV channels a one year grace period in which regardless of audience reach, if the TV channel is less than one year old it is not required to subtitle/caption any volume of its output at all. Whilst I understand the cost of doing so might be considered a barrier to even launching the channel in the first place, the problem is it promotes an attitude or thinking once  again of not budgeting for subtitling/captioning from the start of the business process.  So two or three years down the line when the grace period is over,the risk is that it becomes an additional cost that the channel has not budgeted for and could be perceived as hindrance or ‘punishment’ rather than something positive that adds value for the channel and its viewers.

    The same is also true for translation subtitling. At the 2014 Languages & The Media Conference Pablo Romero-Fresco gave this statistic: Subtitling and translation make up 57% of revenue generated from English speaking movies but translation subtitling only gets 0.1% of budget. He argued that there needs to be a shift of change in the production process of filmmaking.  His suggestion is that film production should recognise and create the role of Producer of Accessibility who is involved before the final edit is locked.

    Sherlock - text message - on screen typography

    Sherlock – text message – on screen typography

    He observed that in recent years text and typography effects like those seen in the BBC’s Sherlock, and Netflix’s House of Cards (and many, many more), which uses text on screen as part of the storytelling and is part of the post production process should also be integrated in this role.  I too have observed the increase in recent years of using typography on screen as part of the story telling process. It’s also being widely used in music videos. For lots of examples of kinetic typography be sure to check out this Vimeo channel.

    Romero repeated this vision and idea at the Future of Subtitling Conference 2014.  You can read more in-depth information in the Journal of Specialised Translation.  I’ve also collated further tweets and information on this topic at Storify: Why subtitles should be part of the production process.

    I think its a really interesting idea. I also think that it will require a monumental shift for this to happen in the industry but never say never. What is good, is that certainly between broadcast TV production companies and subtitling companies is that collaboration of a sort is happening. Information and scripts are shared well in advance so that subtitler’s can prepare as much as possible in advance of broadcasts. Clearly, Romero’s vision is to be much more integrated than that.

    Currently for broadcast TV that is licensed under Ofcom, the responsibility for access and provision of subtitling lies with the broadcaster/TV channel. If the creation of subtitles and captions is implemented wholly into the production process then should subtitling provision then solely lie with the production company?

    At the moment it would appear that the responsibility shifts between the two depending on a number of factors:

    1. Regulation, if there is any and whom is considered responsible for providing subtitles.
    2. The production company and/or the distribution company making the content (some will provide subtitles, some will not, and a broadcaster may have bought programmes from either one of these or they may be one and the same thing)
    3. The country broadcasting the content (what language do you need subtitles in and how many languages will a production company be prepared to produce?)
    4. The method of how content is viewed (digital TV, satellite, cable, online, download, streaming subscription, pay per view,)

    It really shouldn’t be complicated but there is no denying that with all these variables it is. A lot of the above is complicated further by distribution rights which is another topic entirely. I do like the idea a lot though as it has the potential to simplify some of the above. I also think production companies would benefit greatly from the knowledge and expertise gained from years of experience from translation and subtitling companies as to the best methods to achieve collaboration and integration. What do you think?

    • Claude Almansi 11:08 pm on December 22, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      Thank you, Dawn: so many creative proposals in your post. It reminded me of a tutorial that Roberto Ellero made for the Italian public administration in 2009, entitled rather sternly – well, due to the target audience – “Accessibilità e qualità dei contenuti audiovisivi”, Accessibility and quality of audiovisual content. It’s in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wy34n09tvKo , with Italian captions and English subtitles (1). I think you might agree with the part from 1:47:

      “Every audiovisual product begins with a text, a script, a storyboard, some writing geared towards visualization, which then gets enacted in a series of frames and sequences. Every video alway starts from a text and returns to a text (a book, being read generates images in our mind, and the reverse path leads to audiodescription, which, in turn, is also a text)…”

      (1) Apologies for the typos in the English subs: I translated them on a train journey with TextEdit and sent them from a station where I got a wireless connection: he needed them urgently for some talk he was to give the following day 🙂


  • iheartsubtitles 12:19 pm on June 27, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Ofcom, , , , ,   

    CSI TV Accessibility Conference 2014 – Live subtitling, VOD key themes 

    Photo of CSI TV Accessibility Conference 2014 brochure

    CSI TV Accessibility Conference 2014

    Earlier this month the CSI TV Accessibility Conference 2014 took place in London. I had hoped to be able to give a more detailed write up with a bit of help from the transcript of the live captioning that covered the event but I’m afraid my own notes are all I have and so I will summarise some of the interesting points made that I think will be of interest to readers here. It will not cover all of the presentations but it does cover the majority.

    i2 Media Research gave some statistics surrounding UK TV viewing and the opportunities that exist in TV accessibility. Firstly, TV viewing is higher in the older and disabled population. And with an ageing UK population the audience requiring accessibility features for TV is only going to increase.

    Andrew Lambourne, Business Director for Screen Subtitling Systems had an interesting title to his presentation: “What if subtitles were part of the programme?” In his years of working in the subtitling industry he questioned why are we still asking the same questions over recent years. The questions surround the measurement of subtitling quality, and if there is incentive to provide great subtitling coverage for children. He pointed out that in his opinion funding issues are still not addressed. Subtitling is still not a part of the production process and not often budgeted for. Broadcasters are required to pay subtitling companies,and subtitling costs are under continued to pressure (presumably to provide more, for less money). It is a sad fact that subtitling is not ascribed the value it deserves. With regards to live subtitling there is a need to educate the public as to why these errors occur. This was a repeated theme in a later presentation from Deluxe Media. It is one of the reasons I wrote the #subtitlefail! TV page on this blog.

    Peter Bourton, head of TV Content Policy at Ofcom gave an update and summary of the subtitling quality report which was recently published at the end of April. This is a continuing process and I’m looking forward to comparing the next report to this first one to see what changes and comparisons can be made. The presentation slides are available online.

    Senior BBC R&D Engineer Mike Armstrong gave a presentation on his results to measuring live subtitling quality. (This is different to the quantitative approach used by Pablo Romero and adopted by Ofcom to publish its reports) What I found most interesting about this research is that the perception of quality by a user of subtitles is quite different depending on whether the audio is switched on whilst watching the subtitled content. Ultimately nearly everyone is watching TV with the audio switched on and this research found that delay has a bigger impact on perception of quality compared to the impact of errors. The BBC R&D white paper is available online.

    Live subtitling continued to be a talking point at the conference with a panel discussion titled: Improving subtitling. On the panel was Gareth Ford-Williams (BBC Future Media), Vanessa Furey (Action On Hearing Loss), Andrew Lambourne (Screen Subtitling Systems), and David Padmore (Red Bee Media). All panelists were encouraged that all parties – regulators, broadcasters, technology researchers are working together to continually address subtitling issues. Developments in speech recognition technology used to produce live subtitles has moved towards language modelling to understand context better. The next generation of speech recognition tools such as Dragon has moved to phrase by phrase rather than word by word (the hope being that this should reduce error rates). There was also positivity that there is now a greater interest in speech technology which should lead to greater advancements over the coming years, compared to the speed of technology improvements in the past.

    With regards to accessibility and Video on Demand (VOD) services it was the turn of the UK’s Authority of Television Video on Demand (ATVOD) regulatory body to present. For those that are unaware, ATVOD regulate all VOD services operating in the UK except for BBC iPlayer which is regulated under Ofcom. In addition because iTunes and Netflix operate from Luxembourg, although their services are available in the UK, they are outside of the jurisdiction of ATVOD. There are no UK regulatory rules that say VOD providers must provide access services, but ATVOD have an access services working party group that encourage providers to do so as well as draft best practice guidelines. I cannot find anywhere on their website the results of a December 2013 survey looking at the statistics of how much VOD content is subtitled, signed, or audio described which was mentioned in the presentation. If anyone else finds it please comment below. However, in the meantime some of the statistics of this report can be found in Pete Johnson’s presentation slides online. What has changed since 2012 is that this survey is now compulsory for providers to complete to ensure the statistics accurately reflect the provision. Another repeated theme, first mentioned in this presentation is the complexity of the VOD distribution chain. It is very different for different companies, and the increasing number of devices which we can choose to access our content also adds to the complexity. One of the key differences for different VOD providers is end-to-end control. Few companies control the entire process from purchasing and/or creating content for consumers to watch right through to watching the content on a device. So therefore who is responsible for a change or adaptation to a workflow to support accessible features and who is going to pay for it?

    I should also mention that the success of a recent campaign from hard of hearing subtitling advocates in getting Amazon to finally commit a response and say that they will start subtitling content was mentioned positively during this presentation. You may have read my previous blog post discussing my disappointment at the lack of response. Since then, with the help of comedian Mark Thomas, who set up a stunt that involved putting posters up on windows of Amazon UK’s headquarters driving the message home, Amazon have committed to adding subtitles to their VOD service later this year. See video below for the stunt. It is not subtitled, but there is no dialogue, just a music track.

    You can read more about this successful advocacy work on Limping Chicken’s blog.

    Susie Buckridge, Director of Product for YouView gave a presentation on the accessibility features of the product which are pretty impressive. Much of the focus was on access features for the visually impaired. She reminded the audience that creating an accessible platform actually creates a better user experience for everyone. You can view the presentation slides online.

    Deluxe Media Europe gave a presentation that I think would be really useful for other audiences outside of those working in the industry. Stuart Campbell, Senior Live Operations Manager, and Margaret Lazenby Head of Media Access Services presented clear examples and explanations of the workflow involved in creating live subtitles via the process of respeaking for live television. Given the lack of understanding or coverage in mainstream media, this kind of information is greatly needed. This very point was also highlighted by the presenters. The presentation is not currently available online but you can find information about live subtitling processes on this blog’s #SubtitleFail TV page.

    A later panel discussed VOD accessibility. The panelists acknowledged that the expectation of consumers is increasing as is the volume and scale of complexity. It is hoped that the agreed common standard format of subtitle file EBU-TT will resolve a lot of these issues. This was a format still being worked on when it was discussed at the 2012 Conference which you can read about on this blog. The UK DPP earlier this year also published updated common standard subtitles guidelines.

    Were any of my readers at the conference? What did you think? And please do comment if you think I have missed anything important to highlight.

    • peterprovins 4:48 pm on July 21, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      Interesting blog. No excuse for TV, Film, website or even theatre not to be captioned…we do it all. Currently captioning university lectures and looking at doctors surgeries which are currently limited to BSL only. Keep up the good work.


  • iheartsubtitles 3:23 pm on April 21, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Ofcom, , , ,   

    Subtitles and Captioning – Regulatory requirements update part 2 and adding business value 

    As a follow-up to my previous post, I am going to discuss recent reports specific to UK broadcasters which are regulated by Ofcom.

    Last month the charity Action on Hearing Loss published the results of a survey carried out at the request of Ofcom to investigate the quality of subtitles seen on UK linear television. The results for me were not that surprising:

    The highest percentage of problems experienced with subtitles were in relation to news programmes, with nearly half of respondents reporting this as a problem in our survey. Entertainment programmes received 18% of complaints and drama programmes received 16%. Around one eighth of respondents complained about subtitles during a sports programme. A high proportion of these programmes are likely to have at least some live subtitling.

    SOURCE: Action On Hearing Loss – Research – Getting The Full Picture

    Of the live subtitling more than half the complaints were about delay and time lag between speech audio and the subtitles on screen. Again, not surprising. If you want to make subtitles completely unusable – being out of sync with the audio is the way to do it! What the survey does not cover and what I would be interested to see is how Ofcom as a regulatory body could measure the quality of subtitles that broadcasters provide on a regular basis. I have written about this in more detail in CSI User Experience Conference 2012 Part 2 – Live Subtitles & measuring quality.

    Ofcom have published the full year 2012 TV Access Report. The table illustrates the percentage of programmes certain channels are required to subtitle. The good news is that with the exception of ESPN, channels have met their required quota and some have done even better and exceeded it.

    The percentage of content that Ofcom require broadcasters to subtitle is based on the individual channels total audience share. This means that smaller channels are not legally required to provide subtitling and therefore those channels don’t even appear in the report. Is this right? I recently had a conversation via twitter with a TV viewer unhappy that the SyFy channel has not subtitled a brand new and exclusive show called Defiance. Take a look at the tweets I collated at Storify: UK broadcasters linear and VOD TV channels not subtitled.

    In response to a complaint about lack of subtitles SyFy wrote:

    Under current Ofcom regulations channels are obligated to provide access services according to their size. The bigger the channel, the more they must provide. On this basis we are not currently required to provided subtitles on SyFy, and unfortunately as the costs involved in creating those versions are high, we therefore cannot do so at this time.

    SOURCE: @topofthetree

    First off, it is good that SyFy sent a reply to the query (some channels don’t even bother with that). The answer is of course not what those of us who require subtitles to follow a programme want to hear. Whilst SyFy are correct with regards to regulations it the last sentence I question. The costs are high. Well yes there is a cost to subtitle a programme, but cost is relative. How expensive is creating subtitles for viewers compared to the costs spent on the UK marketing campaign promoting the series? I for one haven’t failed to notice the billboard posters promoting the series – the money was found for that. So here is my opinion:

    Really what SyFy is saying is that they have not chosen to budget the cost because it’s not legally required. This is a real shame SyFy because you can spend as much money as you want on promoting the show but having chosen to not provide subtitles, you’ve lost potential audience members before you’ve even began. How silly is that? It’s a kick in the teeth to see the publicity and the posters knowing full well you can’t tune into the premiere even if you wanted to because no subtitles are available! And here’s another thing, the value added by providing subtitles stays with that programme throughout its run on the TV channel. The marketing does not! Once this series has premiered, all that money spent on publicity, done, finished. If you choose to also spend money on providing subtitles, they can be used again and again and again every time the programme airs (and lets face it almost every linear TV channel out there has an awful lot of repeats) that is surely value for money right there? SyFy state they hope to provide subtitles in the future. Given the points I have made in this article, I ask SyFy and similar smaller channels, what are you waiting for?

    Going back to Storify: UK broadcasters linear and VOD TV channels not subtitled and a response from Sky with regards to no subtitles being provided on their VOD (Video On Demand) service:

    The technology used in providing subtitles for TV broadcasts is different for On Demand. Unfortunately it is not possible to just transfer these over as different versions have to be created…We are investigating options at the moment to increase the availability of subtitles On Demand but we cannot at this point confirm when this will be available.

    SOURCE: @Shelle02

    Unlike linear TV channels, VOD is regulated by ATVOD (Authority for Television On Demand) in the UK (except for BBC iPlayer), and unlike Ofcom they currently have no power to compel VOD channels to provide subtitles. I have written about this in more detail in CSI User Experience Conference 2012 Part 1 – Subtitling & Video On Demand Services.

    VOD is growing, in size and complexity. And with that comes technological challenges in providing the service, and access services. But here’s the thing, the content provider who solves the access issue in working out how to provide subtitles for VOD services, much like the SyFy example will be adding business value. According to an article by Red Bee Media, there are four ways add value to VOD:


    In my view, value for Video On Demand is added in four areas:

    1) Of course, the majority of the value is in the content creation and is generated when the item is first made. This, after all, is the reason content is purchased, watched, saved, shared and rewatched. This value drives all other values.
    2) Additional value can be added during content manipulation. For example when a French movie is translated and localised for German audiences.
    3) Content transcoding adds value by ensuring content will play on an end device like a tablet.
    4) The last value-add is the ability to return consumption, demographic and interaction data to content and platform owners to generate additional value, which includes simple upselling like “if you like this, you’ll like that…”. Also, given that 64% of Generation X and 74% of Generation Y use a second screen while watching TV, metadata gives us the ability to synchronise second-screen content with first-screen action.

    SOURCE: Red Bee Media – How Do We Handle The Growing Complexity In VOD

    Looking at (2) above, content manipulation includes adding subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing, not just translation surely? Looking at (4) subtitles can be used as a metadata source to assist a broadcaster with its workflows. Subtitle files are a data source – it contains valuable editorial information (i.e. all of the spoken dialogue) for that programme with a time stamp. This data could be used for search functionality to pinpoint exact parts of a programme where ‘x’ might be mentioned, potentially saving hours of time for a human to manually look for such instances. For more information on metadata’s use in VOD read An Introduction to Video Metadata and CSI User Experience Conference – Part 4 – Access business models. For VOD channels operating online there is also the added benefit that subtitles and captions give to video SEO. I have written about examples of this in Captioning, subtitling and SEO and the second screen and if you want more information on this subject taken a look at 3 Play Media blog series on Video SEO.

    In conclusion then, adding subtitles provides access benefits and business value to broadcasters. Providing access is not a punishment because you’ve reached a certain audience percentage (linear TV), it’s a way to increase audience reach in the first place. Why wait until Ofcom tell you it is a legal requirement? And for VOD, it is no different. The quicker solutions are found for the technological issues in adding subtitles the quicker you can add business value and extend audience reach. The VOD service that does this, is the one that will get my money and customer loyalty.

    • Beth Abbott 4:09 pm on April 21, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      Great, thorough and well-researched article – thanks Dawn!


    • oldmoan 4:12 pm on April 21, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      This is a very well constructed arguement, it is something I think needs to be addressed by OFCOM urgently. Using SyFy as an example, my biggest bugbear, saying subtitles are costly is, as you rightly state, shortsighted. There are thousands of deaf sci fi fans, surely a bigger audience potentially is worth fighting for! Bigger ad revenues?
      I am also at a loss as to why TV/ Film companies do not create a central repository for subs that can be accessed for a minimal fee controlled by, well, lets say an independent body set up by the industry itself!
      It is the 21st century, it is unbelievable that in this day and age of in your face technology that something that is available, actually isn’t!


    • Michelle 7:18 pm on April 21, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      An excellent piece of writing, very precise and informative! It seems technology is leaving deaf people behind as the competition hots up between the sky and cable channels and also streaming services. They all use the same excuse that it is not yet possible to subtitle their services but quite simply it isnt good enough. I have Sky with its huge number of channels, and yet I find despite OFCOM, I am restricted to only a number of channels with subtitles. Day after day I see programmes that I would so love to watch but cant due to lack of accessibility.

      I would never demand 100% access – I am not that unreasonable. All I ask is that they make some effort in subtitling more of their channels and programmes and increase that over the years.

      What we need is just one channel to be daring, to be the good guy and stand up and say they are going to be innovative and subitle some of their stuff despite not being legally required by OFCOM!

      I for one am going to contact a few of the channels, using emails, Twitter and Facebook and see what I get back. Would love to get something back from them other than the standard replies we are so familiar with!


    • Alan 10:22 am on May 2, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      The argument here is quite a valid one. I, too, emailed Syfy last year, (2012) asking about subtitling as they did before for the likes of Eureka,(up until the very last series of it). Then, suddenly, subtitles were nowhere to be seen on any of their popular output.I am disheartened. And, enlightened by your dissertation on this subject.


    • Kate B 12:10 pm on December 29, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      Hi, have just discovered this blog and this thread is very pertinent right now. How does Sky get away with no subtitling for a flagship programme on Sky One over the holiday season? Syfy is not a maonstream channel, but Sky1 is. I’m referring to Moonfleet. Who do I complain to? I don’t use Twitter, but have put a comment on Facebook – though I don’t expect anyone from Sky actually reads that 😦


    • Kate B 10:53 am on December 31, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      Thank you very much – I did find that (after a bit of searching) and have put in a complaint. Since then, Sky have finally managed to attach subtitles – they say – and these will be transmitted on Friday’s repeat. But I still think it’s scandalous to make so much fuss about a programme and then omit something vrey basic in the accessibility. I also got a rreply on Facebook, so something did get through!


  • iheartsubtitles 2:11 pm on December 19, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Ofcom, , ,   

    CSI User Experience Conference 2012 Part 2 – Live subtitles & measuring quality 

    CSI User Experience Conference 2012: TV Accessibility

    CSI User Experience Conference 2012: TV Accessibility

    For background info on this conference read Part 1.

    Ofcom gave a presentation highlighting their access priorities for the next year which are:

    1) To improve the quality of subtitling. This is particularly of interest for live TV subtitling (usually done via respeaking) and the subtitling of TV programmes completed very close to its transmission date thereby not allowing time for prepared subtitles to be created for the viewer to watch and so the subtitles are created by the same process as live TV.

    2) Improve accessibility to EPG’s (Electronic Programme Guide) and functionality for the visually impaired.

    For the purpose of this blog I will be focusing on points made about subtitling. During a roundtable discussion last month hearing impaired viewers gave the following feedback on live subtitles:

    Watching TV with subtitles is much less relaxing than those of us who don’t need to use subtitles. You need to concentrate while reading subtitles, that means less time to look at the picture itself. It’s particularly tough if you’re watching with live subtitling you are having to relate the dialogue you are seeing against the picture that no longer relates to that subtitling. It means that it can be really quite disjointed as a viewing experience. And of course inevitably there are errors and editing which can make story lines difficult to follow. And from time to time, there are more substantial failures of subtitling. Very occasionally, you get misleading information which viewers are not made aware of if they are using subtitles. They maybe be told the statistic is 15% when its actually 50%. Easy enough to happen but it means that part of the viewing population is being misled.

    As a result of such feedback Ofcom set the following objectives:

      Ensure they have an up to date understanding on how live subtitling is produced via respeaking and voice recognition software. (You can read some information about this on my #subtitlefail! page. And if there is more up to date info needed please let me know.)
      To understand how broadcasters manage the production of the programmes that are pre-recorded but delivered close to the transmission date to see what they are doing to ensure that they can provide the best quality subtitles for these programmes, not just for first transmission but also for repeats on linear TV within the first 7 days of first transmissions.
      To understand the technical problems that can sometimes occur throughout the transmission chain and not just at the end of the chain on a viewers TV that cause subtitling errors.
      To look a what measures of subtitling quality there are and if this can be broadened:

      We decided that we wanted to have a look at what measures of subtitling quality there were at present, whether there was cope to broaden and develop these, and whether there might be merit in asking broadcasters to report against a broadened measure in order to provide transparency about the quality of the subtitling they were producing. One of the reasons we thought this might be helpful, is that we have got a long experience of publishing statistics on the quantity of subtitling, that mean that you can go on to a website and see what a channel has been doing against this target over the last year or 6 months. That’s helped to drive quite substantial amount of over compliance. If you do visit our website you will find that most broadcasters are doing rather more tan they have to it may be that transparency and fresh air could also be employed to help broadcasters focus on how to improve the quality of subtitling.

      On this note I’d point you to an interview with Alex Varley CEO of Media Access Australia who I think has done some excellent work in this area. Also worth a watch is his presentation titled: Does measuring subtitle quality really make a difference? I find it interesting that tveeder was set up to allow Australian viewers to provide feedback on the quality of live subtitling of the news. By streaming the captions online anyone can review the subtitles verbatim and assess the error rate. Can something similar be done for other channels? However I am not sure how feedback on quality is gathered and collected using this tool.

    Other feedback that Ofcom received on subtitling:

      Delays are really irksome to viewers because of that difficulty of marrying up the dialogue and picture. It’s even more irksome to them, than errors.
      Scrolling subtitling are much more difficult to read and comprehend quickly as it requires you to spend a lot more time reading and see much less of the picture.
      A loss of subtitling part way through a programme that a viewer is watching that with family results in said viewer suddenly being out of the picture is really frustrating. (This is a classic example of isolation and reminds me of the CCAC’s campaign video Don’t Leave Me Out)
      When a viewer knows that a programme has been pre- recorded but they have have not made it available for broadcast in time for that to be delivered with pre-recorded subtitles. When popular programming comes to broadcaster so late that they have to be subtitled live it often leads to a consequential degradation of the viewing experience for the hearing impaired person.

    In Part 3 I will discuss the technology surrounding live subtitling and include comments made in a panel discussion around this subject.

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