UK broadcasters exceed access requirements

Error message

Deprecated function: Array and string offset access syntax with curly braces is deprecated in include_once() (line 14 of /home/mediacc/public_html/themes/engines/phptemplate/phptemplate.engine).
Thursday, 26 September 2013 11:46am

The bi-annual report into the provision of captioning, audio description and sign language on British TV has been released by the media regulator Ofcom. The January to June 2013 report shows that most broadcasters are exceeding their access targets.

The UK system splits the broadcasters into three levels, all based on their audience share.  The biggest category is Level 1 broadcasters, which includes the main free-to-air channels such BBC, ITV, Channels 4 and 5 and the main subscription channels from Sky. The quota system sets annual percentage targets for access and these targets increase over time based on how many years a broadcaster has been providing the digital TV service.  For example, the main BBC free-to-air channels are all at maximum quota level of 100 per cent captioning, 10 per cent audio description and five per cent signing. 

The latest Ofcom report shows the required quota level (which is determined at the beginning of the year) and what the broadcasters’ level of achievement is.  The quotas are annual requirements, so a broadcaster who is not providing access at the quota levels has to ensure that it does extra services in the second half of the year to ensure that the annual target is met. Usually the broadcasters try and meet the quotas in a steady pattern across the year with the same programs being made accessible each week.

The Level 1 broadcasters (the highest quota level) were generally exceeding their audio description targets (in some cases up to 5 times the required amount). Despite BBC channels being required to caption all programs, technical difficulties meant captioning fell slightly below 100 per cent. For those that have caption quotas below 100 per cent there is a pattern of over-delivery. Sign language compliance was much closer to the quota.

Some broadcasters did not meet the half-yearly requirements, such as Nickleodeon which has an annual captioning target of 70 per cent and currently captions at 65.5 per cent. Nickelodeon also fell short of its audio description target of ten per cent, falling at just 3.6 per cent.  

In order to hold broadcasters to account, Ofcom actively discusses shortfalls with the broadcaster and looks at proposals that outline which extra access services offered in the second half of the year will ensure that the annual target is met. This same approach is taken when license transfers occur from one owner to another. When sports channel ESPN changed ownership the captioning shortfall from 2012 was carried over to the new owners and will be made up in 2013.

“The transparency of the UK access system is to be applauded,” said Media Access Australia CEO Alex Varley. “It means that viewers are very clear about what is happening on each channel and what to expect in the future.  For broadcasters, they know that the system is fair, being properly enforced and creates a level-playing field.”

In Australia, broadcasters report on their captioning provision to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) 90 days after the end of each financial year. In this broadcasters have to identify which channels they have provided captioning for, what quotas those channels are supposed to meet and whether they have met them. As this is the first year this system has been in place we expect the ACMA to report back by the end of 2013.

Top of page