Old name, new purpose: why we’ve gone back to RNID

Subtitle it!

Join our campaign to make on-demand TV more accessible for people with hearing loss.

The problem

Without subtitles, TV is unwatchable for many people with hearing loss.

Subtitles are available for most mainstream TV shows and films when they are broadcast on traditional channels such as BBC 1 or ITV. But not all these shows and films are subtitled when they are shown on online video services such as ITV Hub, All4 or amazon Prime.

We’ve been campaigning on this issue since 2015. Our campaigners changed the law in 2017, so that the government has the power to regulate online video services and require them to have a minimum level of subtitled content.

But the government is yet to put this law into action.

What we want to change

We want the government to act now.

Ofcom (the TV regulator) has provided recommendations on what the regulations should be and how they should be applied. We welcome their suggestion that 40% of content should be subtitled within 2 years of the legislation coming into force, increasing to 80% after 4 years.

We’re calling on the government to enact the law as soon as possible, to compel broadcasters to make services accessible.

Read our joint press release with RNIB

Together with RNIB, we’ve also written to the Minister for Digital Infrastructure, urging them not to delay any further. Read our open letter

Get involved

Join our Campaigns Network for email updates on all our campaigns and the latest opportunities to get involved.

Timeline of the campaign so far

2015

  • We launched Subtitle it! in June, because you told us about the importance of accessible TV.
  • Sky (the UK’s biggest paid-for TV provider), subtitled just 4% of its on-demand content. We worked with deaf teenager Jamie Danjoux to promote his petition calling on Sky TV to add subtitles to its on-demand services – and in summer of that year, Sky made a public commitment to take action.

2016

  • We recruited subtitle users to Sky’s subtitle trials and by September 2016, Sky started to roll out subtitles.
  • We’ve worked with other service providers to encourage them to drive up subtitle levels, resulting in providers such as BT committing to the investment of technology to allow subtitles to be shown on its on-demand programmes.

2017

  • Thanks to the support of our campaigners, in early 2017 the Digital Economy Bill was successfully amended to promise new powers to the regulator of TV, Ofcom, to set on-demand subtitle quotas for broadcasters.
  • In April, this Bill became The Digital Economy Act 2017.

2018

  • Ofcom carried out a consultation to establish quotas for the amount of on-demand content that must carry subtitles. Thousands of you contributed to our consultation response to Ofcom, in which we called on TV providers to move towards fully accessible content for those who are deaf or have hearing loss. Read our press release about Ofcom’s 2018 consultation.
  • Ofcom reported back to government and made recommendations on the regulations, proposing that 80% of content should be subtitled and 5% should be signed within four years of the legislation coming into force. We welcomed these recommendations and publicly called on the government to implement them as quickly as possible.

2019

  • In November, the government wrote a letter to Ofcom, requesting a second consultation to get more information on some of the key parameters of the legislation, to help them understand how it should operate in practice.

2020

  • In July, Ofcom’s second consultation was published. It proposed the recommendations from the first consultation should apply to services with 200,000 unique visitors a month and where the costs of access services come to less than 1% of ‘relevant turnover’. We responded, setting out the needs of viewers who are deaf or have hearing loss. Our key points were:
    • we strongly argued against ‘technical exemptions’ where providers and platforms cannot be bothered to work together to provide subtitles
    • subtitles do not provide equivalent access as BSL for deaf people. The needs of the BSL community should not be traded away against other forms of sensory loss
    • an interim one year target should be included, to create reputational risks for those who don’t comply
    • providers should not be allowed to offer subtitles merely on one platform. Each service on each platform should include accessibility as the norm
    • this is a long overdue change in the law that shouldn’t be delayed any further. As soon as Ofcom publishes it recommendations, we will restart our work to campaign for the implementation of the rules.
  • In September, Ofcom’s consultation closed to responses. We expect Ofcom to make final recommendations to government on the regulations in late 2020.

2021

  • In May Ofcom conducted a survey to learn more about the viewing habits and preferences of BSL users. 
  • In JulyOfcom published their final recommendations, giving the government everything they need to enact the law. The targets they recommended are:
    • 40% of on-demand content should be subtitled within 2 years of the legislation coming into force, rising to 80% after 4 years. 
    • 2.5% of on-demand content should be signed within 2 years of the legislation coming into force, rising to 5% after 4 years.
  • We wrote to the Minister for Digital Infrastructure urging them not to delay any further. Read our open letter