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Ofcom seeking extension of accessibility rules to VOD providers

UK media regulator Ofcom has called for video-on-demand providers to be obliged to provide subtitling on 80% of their catalogues together with audio description on 10% and signing on 5% as part of an overhaul of accessibility regulations.

The recommendations, if adopted by the UK government, would bring on-demand services in line with linear broadcast TV.

Ofcom has called for VOD providers to be made to implement the rules within four years of new regulations coming in to force, with an interim two-year target of 40% subtitling, 5% audio description and 5% signing.

As with broadcast services, Ofcom could allow exemptions in certain cases based on audience benefit, affordability and the technical challenges of implementing accessibility features.

The regulator said that it would need regular comprehensive reporting form on-demand providers to make the rules meaningful. It recommended that providers are required to report annually to it on how far they have met the requirements and what they plan to do to meet the requirements in the future.

Ofcom’s code is also likely to include guidance on how to ensure that access services can be used effectively by their audience.

Consultation participants raised a number of concerns that Ofcom will address before coming to detailed conclusions. These include the difficulty of measuring audiences for VOD services, the fact that platforms with different technical requirements frequently enter and leave the market and the challenge of introducing accessibility features to archive content.

Ofcom said that the slow progress made to date in introducing accessibility features to on-demand services meant that targets are necessary to drive progress. It said the costs were likely to be low relative to service providers’ turnover and would not have a significant impact on decisions about whether to expand content catalogues. The regulator also said it saw no reason why the same requirements should not be placed on archive content as on new titles.

Regarding broadcasters’ catch-up and on-demand portals such as BBC iPlayer or Channel 4’s All4 service, the watchdog said that accessibility requirements should not be limited to content already broadcast as these services carried an increasing amount of on-demand-only content.