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RNIB and Sense slam UK government’s mandatory AD and subs snub

Charities have slammed the government’s decision to not to legislate for mandatory subtitles and AD (audio description) tracks on on-demand services. 

Unlike broadcast TV in the UK, services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Now TV aren’t currently legally required to make their content more accessible for blind, deaf and deafblind customers. 

The RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People) and national deafblind charity Sense have called on the government to reverse its decision in order to set out a timetable for the industry to adhere to. 

Previously, the government had said in 2013 that it would consider legislation in 2016 if streamed media had not become more accessible. Since then the situation has not greatly improved. 

Related: YouView update improves accessibility for the partially sightedRNIB powers up extra-accessible Fujitsu desktop and laptop PCsThe RNIB’s chief executive Lesley-Anne Alexander has called on minister for culture Ed Vaizey to change his mind and examine evidence published by ATVOD (Authority for Television On Demand) last December. 

Alexander said: “RNIB is extremely disappointed at this decision. It makes no sense for the Government to decide that regulation is not needed. We strongly urge Mr Vaizey to think again.” 

The RNIB says that regulation means that around 20 per cent of broadcast media in the UK now carries AD tracks. 

Joff McGill, head of information, advice and research at Sense echoed calls for regulation, saying that the great majority of on demand services lack subtitles. McGill said: “While accessible content can be found on an increasing range of devices, there are still large gaps on the major TV platforms and there have not been great advances for subtitle provision in 2015 – 76 per cent of the UK’s on demand services are still inaccessible. 

“As a result, many of the people that we represent cannot access TV content in the way others take for granted.”

In September 2015, the RNIB published preliminary results of a trial involving AD tracks produced for content across a range of services including, Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play and Now TV. The results highlighted the potential for AD tracks to be loaded onto phones, letting users simultaneously navigate on-demand services and listen to synced AD tracks through headphones. 

The purpose of the trial was to test the usability of such a service rather than explore the financial feasibility of this being rolled out industry-wide. 

Unfortunately such a service isn’t likely to be rolled out en masse until this time next year unless the industry decides to act without ministerial help. 

According to McGill, Vaizey told Sense that he’d talk to broadcasters and providers in Spring 2017. By which time we’ll probably have another series of Daredevil to enjoy, an irony which won’t be lost on partially sighted or blind subscribers

Sense will shortly issue a statement to the industry and government as well as telecoms watchdog Ofcom which, as of January 2016, took on the responsibilities of ATVOD.

In the meantime, some help may come in the form of Stateside regulation. Earlier this month, the FCC proposed that broadcasters and ‘multichannel video programming distributors’ up their currently mandated 50 hours of AD-enhanced content from 50 hours per quarter to 87.5.  

It’s currently unclear how this may affect UK-based subscribers of US-based services like Netflix and Amazon.  


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