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Ofcom publish first report on quality of TV subtitles

Added 01 May 2014

Ofcom have published the first of four reports measuring the quality of live subtitling, in terms of accuracy, speed and latency. The reports are based on samples chosen by Ofcom from programmes broadcast by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and BSkyB in the news, entertainment and chat show genres.

TV subtitles are used by over a million people with hearing impairments. Recently viewers have made clear that there are continuing problems with the speed, synchronisation, accuracy and presentation of live TV subtitling.

Addressing concerns from viewers, Ofcom last year required broadcasters to start reporting on the quality of live subtitles to identify areas for improvement.

In 2013, Ofcom engaged with hearing-impaired viewers and bodies that represent their interests to understand their experiences of live subtitling, and also considered available research. As a result, Ofcom found that the main problems are:

  • latency – the delay between speech and live subtitling;
  • inaccuracy – mistakes that vary from minor spelling errors to major omissions or misleading subtitles;
  • intermittent subtitles, which freeze or disappear for unpredictable reasons; and  presentation – whether subtitles are shown scrolling across the screen or in more readable blocks containing one or more sentences.

Ofcom plan to shortly begin the next sampling exercise, covering programmes in April and May 2014.

Read the first report