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Subtitle problems on Channel 4, Channel 5 and BBC

Like a lot of you, we’ve noticed the subtitling issues on Channel 4, Channel 5 and the BBC: things like subtitles only appearing after a lag – or not appearing at all. We know the value of subtitles when watching TV and the frustration when they’re not provided, so we want to see these problems fixed.

At the bottom of this page, we explain how you can complain and make sure broadcasters understand how important it is that these problems are fixed. On this page, we also set out what we at the RNID are doing and the statements different broadcasters have sent to us.

Unfortunately, from what broadcasters have told us, it looks like subtitling is not going to be back to normal for a while yet and, in summary, they are asking us to bear with them. Please be assured we will keep pushing for answers and update this page as we hear more.

What we’re doing about subtitle problems

Through our Subtitle It! campaign we meet regularly with broadcasters. We’ve contacted the broadcasters affected by the subtitling problem to ask them:

  1. How long are the problems likely to continue?
  2. What can they tell us about the cause of the problem and plans for improving the future resilience of the system?
  3. What are their plans to make the content that has been inaccessible available? Will they be repeated on linear channels or through on-demand services?

We have also reached out to the media regulator, Ofcom, to ask what they are doing about these problems and to find out how many complaints they are getting. Ofcom have assured us that they are in contact with broadcasters and the other organisations responsible for providing the service. We will share any further updates from Ofcom on this page.

We’re keen to make sure that we reach the broadcasters most affected. If you notice any issues with other broadcasters, please contact us at campaigns.email@rnid.org.uk.

What the broadcasters have said

Channel 4

“On Saturday 25 September 2021, Channel 4’s channels and on-demand services were significantly affected when the fire suppression system was triggered at Red Bee Media, the company that broadcasts our services. The building was evacuated and no one was injured, but as a result, we were temporarily off-air.

“Even though all our channels are now broadcasting again, the problems caused by the incident means we are still experiencing issues with programmes and adverts as well as with audio and video quality. Since the incident we have also continued to have problems with our All 4 service and are not able to offer any programmes with audio description, subtitles or sign language.

“So, we would like to apologise for any problems you might still be experiencing as you watch your favourite shows. We want to reassure you that we are doing everything we can to return to a normal service as quickly as possible.

“Until then, bear with us if things don’t always go to plan. We are trying our best.”

Published on the Channel 4 website on 4 October. Read the Channel 4 statement.

BBC

The BBC have told us that technical faults have interrupted their creation and delivery of subtitles, although they are working to deliver live subtitles where they do not have prepared files available. They have also assured us that they will update content on BBC iPlayer that has been affected and are working with third parties to resolve the situation as soon as possible.

Channel 5

“We can only apologize for the lack of subtitles & audio description to the Channel 5 service.

“As you are aware, the disruption comes as a result of an incident that occurred over the weekend at one of our broadcast partner’s [Red Bee Media’s] premises. Unfortunately we are continuing to experience interruption to some of our services.

“To offer further detail to your questions, I’m afraid our broadcast partners have lost access to all the storage that holds the media that they need to use to create our Subtitles and Audio Description, this also extends to adding subtitles live.

“Because the process to fix the situation is entirely manual, it is causing delays with the creation and delivery of subtitles to the Playout suite. That said, we were able to get subtitles & audio description sorted for some of our programming last night and are gradually getting back on course.

“We’re continuing to work closely with our partner’s engineers to get the technical issue fixed ASAP and appreciate our viewers patience and understanding while we resolve this situation. We are also liaising with Ofcom and keeping them updated with progress.”

How to make a complaint about subtitles

If you have a complaint about subtitles or signing, Ofcom recommend that you first contact the broadcaster directly. Feedback and complaints from you and their other viewers help them improve the quality of these services.

If you’ve complained to the TV broadcaster and you’re not satisfied with their response, you can also complain to Ofcom.

How to submit a complaint to Ofcom.


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