Audio description on TV in the UK

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The United Kingdom has the most developed and regulated market for audio description, which appears on both free-to-air and subscription TV.

Audio description quotas require a maximum of 10% of audio description on TV depending on the size of the channel, with some exemptions for live programming such as news and live sport. In 2008 the highest level channels reached the full 10% quota requirement for audio description, although a number of them exceeded this.

Audio description quotas are regulated by Office of Communications (Ofcom) which monitors compliance with the regulated quotas and acts as a policy and review body.

In 2010, as part of one of its periodic reviews of access services, Ofcom considered whether audio description quotas should be raised. The Royal National Institute for Blind People (RNIB) in the UK ran a campaign for the quota to be increased to 20%, and this was supported by many members of parliament.

Ofcom decided to leave the audio description quotas at a maximum of 10%, recommending that more promotion of the audio description service was needed as were consultations with broadcasters about how best to achieve that.

Many channels are already exceeding the 10% quota. Sky Television voluntarily increased its AD levels to 20% from March 2009. In June 2010, Channel 4 announced that all the channels it owns, including Channel 4, Film 4, E4 and More 4, would increase AD to 20% by January 2011.

Examples of programs that are regularly audio-described include:

  • BBC One: Neighbours, Eastenders, Holby City.
  • BBC Two: Documentaries
  • ITV 1: Emmerdale, Coronation Street
  • Channel 4: The Hoobs
  • Five: Home and Away

There are several excerpts from audio described British television programs on RNIB's website.

Whilst there are no regulated presentation standards for audio description in the United Kingdom, there are some Guidelines for Television Access Services which were prepared by the predecessor to the Office of Communications, the Independent Television Commission (ITC). These are generally followed by UK audio describers.

AD is receiver mixed on free-to-air (Freeview) television. On Digital Satellite Televsion (Sky) the audio description or "narrative" service is available for any Sky set-top box user and is present on the same channels as Freeview, plus some of Sky's own movies, sports and travel channels.

Televisions can be programmed so that you hear a short beep whenever you tune to a program with audio description, switch audio description on or off temporarily and highlight audio described programs in the onscreen television guide. 

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