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On-Demand And Streaming Video Broadcasters Will Be Legally Required To Add Subtitles

On-Demand And Streaming Video Broadcasters Will Be Legally Required To Add Subtitles

A new amendment to the Digital Economy Bill will require on-demand broadcasters to add quotas of subtitled content to their service, putting them in line with traditional broadcasters.

While the three main on demand video providers in the UK (Netflix, Amazon and BBC iPlayer) already offer subtitles for most of their content, Sky’s NOW TV only recently started to add subtitles, and in a very limited capacity. Other providers, such as ITV and Channel 4, only provide subtitles on some of the content, and on specific devices.

Current Ofcom regulations (The Office of Communications – the body responsible for broadcasting regulations) regarding subtitles and sign language only relate to “traditional” broadcasters, but changes are afoot following the new amendment, which was passed in the House of Lords last week.

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The new ruling comes after a “Subtitle it!” campaign run by “Action on Hearing Loss” since 2015, a charity representing deaf and hearing impaired people in the UK. The new amendment says that

“The Secretary of State may… impose requirements on providers of on-demand programmes services for the purpose of ensuring that their services are accessible to people with disabilities affecting their sight or hearing or both.”

It may take years for the changes to take effect, according to “Action on Hearing Loss”. Once the bill passes in April or May, Ofcom will carry out a consultation and set quotas for the amount of on-demand content that must carry subtitles, and, crucially, when the requirements will be implemented.

Subtitles in TV programmes and movies are important to many – first and foremost to people with hearing problems, but also to people who don’t speak English as their primary language, in which case English subtitles might help them understand the content better.

Netflix and Amazon’s Instant Video already offer subtitles on most of their content, partly due to American regulations. Google’s Play Store does the same, with Sky’s NOW TV lagging behind. After years of preparations, they have finally started offering subtitles this month, but at point, only on a very limited selection of movies and programmes, and only on specific devices (the NOW TV boxes, and the Apple TV).

Writer and news editor based in London, I cut the TV cord back in 2014 and never looked back. I watch A LOT of TV, and thankfully I can choose whatever I want to watch without depending on archaic channels.

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