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Subtitles on BBC iPlayer Update

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Jonathan Hassell | 11:37 UK time, Tuesday, 9 December 2008

As we seek to engage with our audiences in new ways, and through new technologies, it incredibly important that the BBC does not leave disabled and elderly people behind as we design, engineer and architect the digital future.

So I'd like to give our deaf and hard of hearing users an update on our work to improve the availability of subtitles on BBC iPlayer.

Firstly, I'm sorry for not communicating about this more regularly.

This is not because the BBC "doesn't care" about deaf people's needs, as some users of the iPlayer messageboard have said, but because of the complexities of getting broadcast TV subtitles online.

After the launch of subtitles for streamed content back in June, we have been constantly working on improving our production processes and technologies - in partnership with our broadcast partner - to steadily improve the amount of programmes on iPlayer with subtitles.

I hope that you may have noticed an improvement in the number of pre-recorded programmes on iPlayer with subtitles recently, since we rolled out a technology update in our subtitling workflow a few weeks ago. This increased the amount of programmes with subtitles on the site by approximately 25%.

However, this still isn't good enough, especially because it leaves our users unaware of which programmes are likely to have subtitles for reasons they shouldn't need to understand.

So the main thrust of our work in improving the amount of subtitles on iPlayer is still to come. We are currently in the last stages of developing and testing new workflows to make subtitles available for two more categories of programme: live programmes, and time-sensitive programmes which tend to change hours before transmission, and so have subtitles produced sometimes minutes before broadcast.

These should significantly increase the number of iPlayer programmes with subtitles, and are a key element of our plans to get as much of the 100% of programmes across the main TV channels which are subtitled available online as is technically and practically possible.

Once these workflows are finalised and operational, I'll let you know.

Jonathan Hassell is Head of Audience Experience & Usability.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    I hope that you may have noticed an improvement in the number of pre-recorded programmes on iPlayer with subtitles recently, since we rolled out a technology update in our subtitling workflow a few weeks ago. This increased the amount of programmes with subtitles on the site by approximately 25%.

    I have indeed noticed that Doctor Who and EastEnders have had subs for the last couple of weeks for downloads.

    However, this still isn't good enough, especially because it leaves our users unaware of which programmes are likely to have subtitles for reasons they shouldn't need to understand.

    ... but perhaps we'd like to know the reasons anyway.

    For instance, the Two Pints... episodes Mummy Cupboard and Cauliflower were not subtitled for downloads on 29 November but had been in October.

    And Merlin on 29 November (one of quite a few programmes) was subtitled for streaming but not for downloads.

    So the main thrust of our work in improving the amount of subtitles on iPlayer is still to come. We are currently in the last stages of developing and testing new workflows to make subtitles available for two more categories of programme: live programmes, and time-sensitive programmes which tend to change hours before transmission, and so have subtitles produced sometimes minutes before broadcast.

    ... presumably including things like The News and Strictly Come Dancing.

    These should significantly increase the number of iPlayer programmes with subtitles, and are a key element of our plans to get as much of the 100% of programmes across the main TV channels which are subtitled available online as is technically and practically possible.

    And then we can work on getting colour coding (hint: ) implemented.

    (And may I suggest a (or wherever) rather than literal space characters? Literal spaces don't work so well with proportional typefaces like Helvetica and Arial. (Any chance of being able to change the typeface through a style sheet or something?))

    Once these workflows are finalised and operational, I'll let you know.

    Please do.

  • Comment number 2.

    That should be <span style="...">...</span> and <div align="left">...</div>.

  • Comment number 3.

    I understand that subtitles now work (as of today) on BBC HD on Freesat now too?

  • Comment number 4.

    Also ...

    Please put the subtitles as normal text on the /programmes page - this would allow BBC programmes then to be searched (via Google) on WHAT WAS SAID IN THEM.

    Even better would be time-based links to the content on the iPlayer so you could search for some text, find it on a /programmes page and get directly to the content!

  • Comment number 5.

    I take your point about BBC Subtitles refuting accusations that they "just don't care" about the needs of the deaf and disabled because the Sub Title service has done a superb job in the last couple of years and the department has to work incredibly hard to decipher what some people mumble and mutter these days. Vast numbers of people even in the media front line can't enunciate words properly and say things like "Anyfink else" or "Once a mumf".

    However, I think the area where BBC really shows it doesn't care is in their ignoring of the thousands of complaints they get about intrusive so called "background music" that is gratuitously spread over any programme that we wish to hear detail in the dialogue. We still get Directors or Producers hell bent on forcing the programme-makers to throw screeching, whistling, spooky pseudo-atmospherics and anything else that can interrupt, flood, or otherwise totally obscure what is being said. They are so afraid of violating their unwritten law about programme-content pace and whizz-kid silly camera shots.

    This stylised behaviour flys in the face of skilled film directing and above all alienates the viewers and listeners especially the hard of hearing who just give up watching as it's not worth the hassle.

    But the bbc continually makes excuses why they have to put it in.
    The only person who ever persuaded them that his documentary was going to be made his way without all that nonsense was Jonathan Miller. Pity others don't put their foot down too.

  • Comment number 6.

    I have been using subtitles a bit recently - and, as I have some odd hearing problems, will probably be using them a lot more in future.

    I understand some of the problems in subtitling true live programs - and 'near live' - but completely fail to appreciate the problems with recorded programs. For example, where a pre-recorded program obviously has been subtitled and they are not available in the live stream, but are in 'watch again'!

    And may I also request that we can view subtitles in a separate area - e.g. a subtitle window - so we can make it any size we want and place it anywhere on our screens. I would often wish to view a small picture but have the subtitles easy to read. (Accepted that this would not be possible when viewing full screen.)

    And I completely endorse Whispertread's comment regarding background music. Try hearing the words over tinnitus, while suffering from hyperacusis *AND* going deaf. On Saturday a R4 news report was produced over a background of church bell ringing...

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    I have noticed that the majority of live programmes on iPlayer now consistently seem to have subtitles, e.g.: The Daily Politics, Working Lunch, Newsnight, The One Show, Watchdog, BBC News bulletins on BBC One, etc.

    Well done, and keep up the good work :)

  • Comment number 9.

    It certainly gives me an insight into how life must be, and the troubles you encounter being hard of hearing. The subtitles make all the difference to me when im whitling away the hours on nightshift because there are no speakers on the PC.
    I'm not even deaf and I dont know where I would be without the subtitles.
    I'm just glad to see its making a big difference to peoples lives.

    Keep it up,
    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 10.

    I love the development this has gone through where is the current list of what is available?
    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 12.

    Although English is my native and i'm not a deaf person, i still love having subtitles on any show i watch... that improves my vocabulary and i commit less grammatical errors since i know how to spell the difficult words... Besides at times I watch late night shows and my wife cann't take the noise so subtitles can be enormously helpful... Anyway I'm glad to get back my subtitles...
    Thanks for the great effort!
    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]Robert

  • Comment number 13.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 14.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 15.

    I wrote about the subtitling technology issue recently (from an admittedly different perspective). In all honesty, I've had very little interaction with people with hearing difficulties but it seems pretty clear that a services that marries the iPlayer and subtitles can only be a good thing.

    I'm curious about the process of how the subtitles are actually put together. Do you think it would be possible for an effective 'live' transcription? I remember the days of old Ceefax live subtitles, which were obviously being done by actual people - with typos and misliteralisation creeping through quite badly...

    Anyway, I know that there's lots of transcription software out there (apparently really prevalent in the medical field where dictation is already automated to some degree) so could it be built into the iPlayer, and if so would the BBC license the solution to outside companies to help people with hearing impairments?

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 17.

    As a deaf individual, I'm thrilled about some more web owners making efforts to make their audio contents transcribed.

    To paulcarps: There's no fully automatic dictation at the present time, you would still need a human to finalize the transcript. Computers aren't smart enough to tell differences between words such as "two" and "two" and "too" or figure out the context of speech. Not to mention additional issues as background noises and accents. It would be weird to read something like "The too books" instead of "There are two books".

 

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