9 February 2017
When Subtitle it! was launched in June 2015, thousands of you asked the government to end the digital exclusion of faced by people with hearing loss when watching on-demand TV and films. Well, together, we did it!
We’re delighted to announce that, as a result of the campaign, parliament last night voted in favour of changing the law so that on-demand broadcasters will be legally required to provide minimum levels of subtitles.
How did this happen?
The government has passed an amendment
(see section 368BC on p13), as part of the Digital Economy Bill, promising new powers to the regulator of TV, Ofcom, to set on-demand subtitle quotas for broadcasters – along with requirements for signing and audio description.
The amendment states 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”
This is a huge success for everyone who’s been involved in the campaign and a big step towards ensuring equal access to TV for people who are deaf or have hearing loss.
You won’t see the changes straight away, but rest assured we’ll be keeping a very close eye on progress. Here’s an outline of what we expect to happen now:
Ofcom will carry out a consultation
Within weeks of the Digital Economy Bill being passed (due in April or May) we expect the government to instruct Ofcom to carry out a consultation. Ofcom will consult on the development of a new code that will lay out the quotas for the amount of on-demand content that must carry subtitles, and when the requirements will take effect.
The Subtitle it! amendment states that the code must “give guidance as to the steps to be taken by providers of on-demand programme services so as to meet the requirements of regulations”
2. Ofcom will report back
Ofcom will report back to government and make recommendations on the details of the code.
3. Parliament will enshrine the new code in law
The government will draft the regulation necessary for the code to take effect. We expect this to include legally enforceable quotas for subtitled content to be imposed on content broadcasters and platforms. Parliament will need to pass these regulations, with MPs and Peers being asked to signal their consent to the government’s proposals.
4. The new law will take effect
It’s possible that progress could be gradual, as the government may choose to give industry a period of notice before the requirement takes affect or have a phased introduction, whereby the quotas for subtitled content are raised gradually over a period of years.
The on-demand market is far more complex and diverse than the market for traditional live TV which means Ofcom will need to carry out detailed consultations when setting the quotas. It will need to balance the benefit to consumers of providing subtitles against the burden on providers. What this is likely to mean is that small providers with low viewer numbers are likely to face lower quotas than the biggest platforms.
We don’t know exactly how long it will take before all the quotas are in place but nevertheless this is a huge step towards ensuring equal access to TV content for our supporters.
Our next steps
When the Digital Economy Bill receives Royal Assent (expected by May) it will become the 2017 Digital Economy Act – and the Subtitle It! amendment will become law. Following this, we will proactively engage with Ofcom during their consultation process and make the case for them to create a robust code which quickly drives up the amount of on-demand content with subtitles.
The next phase of our campaign will then depend on the recommendations that Ofcom brings forward. But you can count on us to call on the government to keep its promise and deliver the secondary legislation needed to create the code.
Thanks again for all your support with this campaign; we hope you share our feelings of excitement at seeing the Subtitle It! amendment passed. Together we have made a real difference and look forward to seeing subtitles rolled out on on-demand content – and we may be calling on your help again to ensure that this exciting development is transformed into solid improvements for subtitle users.
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