Previous Code on Television Access Services

Published 18|12|12, superseded 13|05|15

Summary

1. This code sets outs the requirements on subtitling, sign language and audio description ('television access services') that apply to television services licensed in accordance with the Communications Act 2003, the Broadcasting Act 1996, or the Broadcasting Act 1990 and primarily intended for reception by members of the public within the European Union. Guidance on practices to be followed in providing access services is set out in Appendix 2 to this code. Ofcom notes that some broadcasters already provide television access services on a voluntary basis, and encourages broadcasters to do so where possible, and to have regard to relevant parts of the code and guidance.

2. In this code:

  1. 'average audience share' means the audience share over a year in each country where the service is received;
  2. 'domestic broadcaster' means the provider of a television programme service which is primarily intended for reception by members of the public within the United Kingdom;
  3. 'non-domestic broadcaster' means the provider of a television programme service which is primarily intended for reception by members of the public in Member States of the European Union other than the United Kingdom.

Statutory provisions

3. Under Sections 303 to 305 of the Communications Act 2003 ('the Act'), Ofcom is required to draw up, and from time to time review and revise, a code giving guidance as to the extent to which television services should promote the understanding and enjoyment by persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, as well as those who are blind or partially sighted, or who have a dual sensory impairment (deafblind).

4. The code is to apply to licensed public service channels, digital television programme services, television licensable content services (TLCS), and restricted television services, as well any digital television programme services (DPS) provided by the Welsh Authority (including S4C Digital). The BBC Agreement (-1-) also requires the BBC to observe the code in respect of its public television services subject to any exclusions agreed between Ofcom and the BBC having regard to the considerations set out in section 303(8). The code is not to apply to electronic programme guides provided under a TLCS or DPS licence, or to services comprising advertising (teleshopping), which is excluded from the definition of programme for the purpose of section 303.

5. Ofcom is required to set ten year targets for subtitling, signing and audio description ('television access services'), as well as five year targets for subtitling. It is also empowered to set other interim targets, and these are set out in the table below. The targets apply to the anniversary of the relevant date for the service in question.

6. The 'relevant date' for the purpose of determining the tenth anniversary of services is 1 January 1997 in the case of BBCs 1 and 2, 1 January 1998 for Channel 5, and 1 January 2000 for Channels 3 and 4 and S4C Digital. In the case of digital television programme services, the relevant date is the date on which the provision of that 2003, the date is the entry into force of the legislation, which is 29 December 2003. In the case of television services starting after 29 December 2003, the relevant date is the date on which provision of that service commenced unless Ofcom has determined by reference to the factors set out in paragraph 10 that all the programmes in a particular service should be excluded and has imposed a separate timetable for alternative requirements in relation to that service. Ofcom may determine that a television service should be treated as a continuation of a previous service in order to prevent broadcasters from avoiding the requirements of this code by replacing one service with another.

7. Ofcom is also empowered to exclude certain types of programme or service from the requirement to provide television access services, or apply different targets to excluded programmes.

Targets

8. The statutory targets for broadcasters are expressed as percentages of the service, including all programmes (-2-) other than advertisements and programmes that have been excluded by reference to the factors summarised in paragraph 11. They rise from a low level to the ten-year targets prescribed by the Act, that is eighty per cent (80%) for subtitling, five per cent (5%) for signing and ten per cent (10%) for audio description. In the case of Channel 3 and Channel 4, the relevant target for subtitling is 90%. The targets reflect the statutory requirement for subtitling to be applied at the rate of sixty per cent (60%) of non-excluded programmes from the fifth anniversary.

9. Licensed public service broadcasters and S4C which are already under an obligation to provide television access services are required to continue meeting the interim targets set in Annex 1. The BBC is required to continue meeting the interim targets to which it has committed itself, also set out in Annex 1. Other broadcasters are required to meet the targets set out in the Table below (-3-) .

Anniversary of relevant date (-4-) Subtitling Signing Audio Description
First 10% 1% 2%
Second 10% 1% 4%
Third 35% 2% 6%
Fourth 35% 2% 8%
Fifth 60% 3% 10%
Sixth 60% 3% 10%
Seventh 70% 4% 10%
Eighth 70% 4% 10%
Ninth 70% 4% 10%
Tenth 80% 5% 10%


10. The targets and interim targets represent minimum obligations and apply in each year, from each anniversary referred to in the table. In compliance with section 303(3) of the Communications Act, from the fifth anniversary, targets will apply on a rolling basis starting each week from one week after the date to which the previous annual average has been calculated.

Excluded programmes

11. Ofcom may exclude programmes and services having regard, in particular, to:

  1. the extent of the benefit which would be conferred by the provision of the assistance for disabled people in relation to the programmes;
  2. the size of the intended audience for the programmes;
  3. the number of persons who would be likely to benefit from the assistance and the extent of the likely benefit in each case;
  4. the extent to which members of the intended audience for the programmes are resident in places outside the United Kingdom;
  5. the technical difficulty of providing the assistance; and
  6. the cost, in the context of the matters mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (e), of providing the assistance.

Audience benefit

12. Having regard to these factors, the following television services are excluded from providing television access services if their share of viewing falls below the audience share threshold (-5-) . The audience share threshold for:

  1. domestic television services is an average audience share of all UK households over a 12 month period ('audience share') of 0.05% or less;
  2. non-domestic television services is the average audience share in the relevant EU Member State or States where the service is received over a 12 month period indicated in Annex 2.

13. Ofcom would expect to exclude television services from providing signing if they do not meet the relevant signing threshold. The signing thresholds for:

  1. domestic television services is an average audience share of all UK households over a 12 month period ('audience share') of 1% or less;
  2. non-domestic television services is the average audience share indicated in Annex 2.

14. Ofcom will consider, in the light of the factors set out above, whether or not channels with an audience share of slightly more than or slightly less than the signing threshold should be excluded.

15. Section 303(10) (c) of the Act allows Ofcom to impose alternative requirements with respect to the provision of assistance for disabled people in relation to any programmes or services it has excluded. In considering whether alternative requirements should be imposed on individual channels, it is open to Ofcom to take into account any voluntary arrangements entered into by broadcasters that would also meet the needs of sign-language users more effectively.

16. Having regard to this, Ofcom requires that television services achieving an audience share between the relevant audience share and signing thresholds should, from the first anniversary of the relevant date, broadcast between 7am and 11pm local time 30 minutes of programming presented in sign language each month (-6-) . Ofcom will keep this requirement under review.

17. Broadcasters may, if they wish, propose alternatives to the arrangements set out in paragraph 13, and Ofcom will consider these in the light of the factors set out in paragraph 10, the needs of people with hearing impairments and the guidance set out in Annex 3 to the Code. Further guidance on this is set out in Annex 3 to the Code.

18. To aid planning for broadcasters not currently required by reason of audience share or revenue to provide television access services, Ofcom will carry out a mid-year review based on corresponding data for revenue and audience shares, and will publish a statement indicating which channels will be required to provide access services (see paragraph 29 below) in the following year (-7-) .

19. In the event that the audience share of a television service currently required to provide television access services falls below the threshold in two successive quarters, Ofcom will notify the broadcaster that the obligation will discontinue at the end of the calendar year in question.

20. Television services primarily intended for reception by members of the public outside the European Union are exempt from television access service requirements.

Technical difficulty

21. Television access services need not be provided if Ofcom is satisfied that this would be impracticable on grounds of technical difficulty, including the following cases:

  1. audio description of music and news programmes and services, where there is little space within the dialogue/sound track to provide audio description, and less need. However, broadcasters are required to ensure that producers, editors and presenters are trained in techniques to describe the significance of images for the benefit of the blind and partially-sighted audience. Broadcasters are required to provide a statement of the training they are providing within 12 months of becoming subject to the code;
  2. provision of subtitling that is not supported by commercially-available set top boxes (e.g. Chinese or Urdu); and
  3. provision of access services where a service is broadcast with several different language feeds, making the choice of language for signing problematic.

Cost

22. Ofcom has determined average costs per hour of providing programming with subtitling, signing and audio description, including any alternative requirements imposed in accordance with paragraph 14.

These have been used to calculate the costs of three levels of provision:

  1. Level One equates to the full current annual targets for subtitling, signing and audio description, as well as any alternative requirements;
  2. Level Two equates to 66% of the current annual target for subtitling, as well as 100% of the targets for signing and audio description, and any alternative requirements; and
  3. Level Three equates to 33% of the current annual target for subtitling, as well as 100% of the targets for signing and audio description and any alternative requirements.

23. In determining the applicable costs for each channel, Ofcom will have regard to the number of hours broadcast each day, the proportion of the schedule that is exempted from the provision of one or more access services, and the percentage of repeats.

24. Broadcasters whose services are not otherwise excluded will be required to achieve the highest Level of provision they can afford within a budget equating to 1% of their 'relevant turnover' (-8-) . Only broadcasters unable to afford Level Three costs will be exempt from provision altogether on grounds of cost.

25. In determining the applicable amount of relevant turnover, Ofcom will have regard to the most recent declarations of relevant turnover.

26. In the case of channels in common ownership (-9-) , Ofcom will determine which channels that are not otherwise excluded should provide television access services by averaging the total relevant turnover across all services in common ownership. If this means that each of the channels would have an average relevant turnover which would enable it to meet one of the three Levels at a cost of 1% or less of that average relevant turnover, those channels will be required to provide the relevant Level of television access services. If the averaging of relevant turnover would mean that none of the services would need to provide television access services, Ofcom will assess eligibility on the basis of the individual relevant turnover attributable to each service.

27. Services which meet the 1% threshold in the most recent declarations of relevant turnover before the start of the next calendar year will be required to provide television access services at the appropriate level for the whole of the next calendar year.

Other exclusions

28. Other television services excluded by section 303 of the Communications Act 2003 from the requirement to provide television access services are:

  1. those comprising advertising only, for example, a shopping channel;
  2. electronic programme guides; and
  3. those licensed outside the United Kingdom.

Changes in audience share and relevant turnover

29. Ofcom will conduct a mid-year review of the audience share and relevant turnover of channels licensed in the United Kingdom, based on the most recent four quarters calendar year for which corresponding data is available. Ofcom will notify the licensee, if on the basis of that review Ofcom considers that a channel is likely, in the following year, to become:

  1. subject to a requirement to provide television access services;
  2. subject to a different Level of provision; or
  3. excluded from the requirement to provide television access services.

30. If a mid-year review indicates that the audience share of a television service providing television access services has fallen below 0.05% but remains at 0.04% or above, and this is confirmed by figures for the subsequent quarter, the licensee will be required to maintain the existing level of provision in the following year, against the targets applying in the current year. In the event that the average audience share remains below 0.05% in the following year, the requirement to provide television access services will cease at the end of that year, or earlier if the licensee demonstrates to Ofcom's satisfaction that continuation of the obligation would threaten the viability of the service.

31. If a service that ceases to be required to provide television access services subsequently regains the levels of audience share and / or qualifying revenue that would subject it to the requirement once more, the licensee will be required to resume provision at the appropriate Level described in paragraph 19 above. Ofcom will determine which level of annual target should apply in consultation with the licensee.

32. If, at any time, a licensee demonstrates to Ofcom's satisfaction that continuation of access service obligations would threaten the viability of its service, Ofcom may reduce, suspend or terminate those obligations.

Presentational and technical standards

33. Broadcasters are required to observe the standards set out in the Guidelines on Television Access Service Standards in Annex 4 to the code.

34. There are currently no technical standards for the means by which Television Access Services are to be made available to viewers. However, Ofcom expects television service providers to use reasonable endeavours to ensure that such television access services can be accessed by the greatest number of viewers in their homes (whether they receive their services by terrestrial signal, or by satellite or cable).

Promotion of awareness

35. Ofcom requires television service providers to promote awareness of the availability of their television access services to potential users of the services by making available accurate and timely information to electronic programme guide (EPG) operators listing their services, and by providing similar information on their website. Ofcom has imposed corresponding obligations on EPG operators through the EPG code made under section 310 of the Act. Broadcasters who provide programme synopses for use in EPGs in the United Kingdom should indicate which programmes are accompanied by television access services by including the standard upper-case acronyms for subtitling (S), audio description (AD) and signing (SL). Where broadcasters provide access services to other countries, they should endeavour to use the indicators for access services used in those countries.

36. Ofcom will also expect television service providers to demonstrate that they are taking effective steps to publicise awareness of their television access services through other means, including periodic on-air announcements and information in publications aimed at persons likely to benefit from television access services. Where the nature of the access service is not spelt out in full, the standard abbreviations referred to in paragraph 35 above should be used.

Programming and scheduling

37. Ofcom expects that broadcasters will normally schedule programming with subtitling and audio description at peak viewing times for each channel. However, as signing is currently only provided in open format, it is accepted that signed programmes may need to be shown outside peak viewing hours (subject to paragraph 16 above) and recorded by viewers with hearing impairments. In selecting programmes for which access services are to be provided, broadcasters should seek advice from disability groups about how best to maximise the benefits to the blind and those with visual impairments, to the deaf and hard of hearing, and to the deafblind. Ofcom encourages broadcasters not to seek to fulfil their obligations by scheduling multiple repeats of programmes, as this will detract from the benefit of providing access services to users.

Equal Opportunities legislation

38. Broadcasters will need to have regard to their obligations under equal opportunities legislation, including the need to make reasonable adjustments in the delivery of services so as to make these accessible to disabled people, and should seek their own advice on this.

Monitoring and compliance

39. Broadcasters to whom this code applies:

  1. are required to submit returns for each six month period covering quarters starting from 1 January 2005, in the form and format to be notified separately by Ofcom; and
  2. shall make and retain a recording in sound and vision in a form acceptable to Ofcom of every programme included in the service for a period of 60 days from the date of its broadcast, and provide a copy of the recording for examination and reproduction on request by Ofcom.

Reviews

40. This code is subject to periodic review.

Footnotes:

  1.-http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/assets/files/pdf/regulatory_framework/charter_agreement/bbcagreement_july06.pdf

  2.- Section 405 of the Communications Act provides that 'programme' includes an advertisement and, in relation to a service, anything included in that service. Section 303(13) excludes advertisements from the meaning of programme for the purpose of that section.

  3.- A list of channels required to provide access services is available on Ofcom's website at http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/broadcasting/guidance/other-guidance/tv_access_serv/. The targets applying to all these channels can be found in the most recent of the periodic reports published by Ofcom on its website at http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/market-data-research/market-data/tv-sector-data/tv-access-services-reports/.

  4.- Or such date as Ofcom may determine, as explained in paragraph 6.

  5.- The provisions in paragraphs 12 to 14 apply to television services that are required to provide access services (otherwise than by reason of the provisions in paragraph 12 to 14) including those that have been exempted in the circumstance describe in paragraph 7, which have had different targets applied to them.

  6.- Programming that, in Ofcom's opinion, contains a substantial proportion of sign-interpreted content will not fulfil this obligation.

  7.- Those channels whose relevant date falls before the end of a calendar year will be expected to start providing access services from the anniversary of that date, subject to meeting the audience threshold, unless they can demonstrate that they would be unable to meet the cost of Level 3 (or higher) obligations from 1% of their actual or projected relevant turnover.

  8.- As defined in Ofcom's Statement of Charging Principles, 8 February 2005. (www.ofcom.org.uk/consult/condocs/socp/main/?a=87101)

  9.- For the purpose of the Code, Ofcom will treat a channel as being in common ownership with one or more other channels if each channel is a subsidiary (within the meaning of the Companies Act 1985) of a common holding company or if they share a common parent at any point in the chain of ownership which has a majority interest in each. In determining whether channels are in common ownership, Ofcom will also have regard to other relevant factors of the kind set out in Ofcom's Guidance on the definition of control of media companies (http://www.ofcom.org.uk/consult/condocs/media2/statement/).