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Introducing coloured subtitles on BBC iPlayer

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Jonathan Hassell | 19:47 UK time, Friday, 18 June 2010

One area of key importance in enabling access to BBC iPlayer content for our deaf and hard of hearing users is subtitles.

In December 2008 we were able to upgrade the iPlayer subtitles technology to deliver well over 90% of iPlayer programmes with subtitles, and we've consistently achieved this level over the last 18 months.

Having achieved the quantity of coverage that our deaf and hard of hearing users wanted, I mentioned at the time that we were next going to look at improvements to the quality of the subtitles experience.

I hope that users of programmes which are subtitled live (News or live events) have noticed real improvements in the synchronisation between speech and subtitles recently.

And today, I'm delighted that coloured subtitles have been included on the Apple iPad version of iPlayer, and will roll out across many iPlayer platforms soon.

Here's Kevin Mercer - Usability and Accessibility Specialist for iPlayer - with more details:

Whilst coverage has continued to improve, the on-screen appearance of iPlayer subtitles has remained largely unchanged for the last few years. Feedback from our audiences has told us that one area where we could really improve the experience would be to offer coloured subtitles in a presentation format similar to that used on BBC television. This assigns colours to the subtitle text for individual speakers and makes it much easier to follow conversations between two or more people.

Frustratingly, despite colour code information for subtitles being technically available to us for some time, a fair amount of work has been needed to update the BBC Media Player (which delivers both the video and subtitles information for most iPlayer services) to display these colours, due to the growing number of different platforms the player needs to support, across BBC Online as well as iPlayer.

I'm pleased to say this situation is now changing for the better.

We've recently been working intensively with the BBC Media Player team to make a number of accessibility improvements, one major change being the way subtitle files are handled. In addition a number of new iPlayer services away from the web will also be coming online which can happily cope with the presentation of colour information in subtitles files without the issues we initially faced on the web.

We're pleased to announce that both of these developments will allow the roll out of coloured subtitles on many BBC iPlayer platforms over the coming few months, including the main iPlayer website.

The first place you'll actually be able to see the all new coloured subtitles is on the shiny new release of the Apple iPad version of iPlayer developed by Morten Eidal's team.

The Usability and Accessibility team here at the BBC are really pleased to get this improvement out the door. It's the first fruits of some quite extensive accessibility work we have been carrying out on the BBC Media Player over recent months, more information on which we will be sharing with you in the coming weeks.

We'd love to get feedback on this so please keep the comments coming.

Jonathan Hassell is Head of User Experience & Accessibility, BBC FM&T

Kevin Mercer is Usability and Accessibility Specialist for BBC iPlayer


  • Comment number 1.

    Just out of interest, when will the live iPlayer streams have subtitles, coloured or not?

  • Comment number 2.

    I await the usual moans from the Android users.

  • Comment number 3.

    Will it translate the audio between different languages?

  • Comment number 4.

    Is there any progress on getting subtitles on the iplayer on Virgin Media? I realise this may be dependent on Virgin, as none of their other on-demand streams have subs either. If so, can the BBC press to get this implemented? I'm sure I read somewhere recently that a quarter of iplayer views are via Virgin, so this must surely be proritized!

  • Comment number 5.

    due to the growing number of different platforms the player needs to support

    Have you considered using an open -- or at least more uniformly-implemented -- standard so you didn't have to tailor the player? Oh: yes, you have :-(

  • Comment number 6.

    I agree with Alan Thew. When will Virgin and the BBC talk to each other so that iplayer from Virgin has sub-titles?

  • Comment number 7.

    sod the coloured subtitles - lets have subtitles on every programme!

  • Comment number 8.

    I think it is a great idea to have coloured subtitles, for both the hard of hearing and also for people in shared accommodation, when the other folk don't know when to be quiet, it aids watching programs.

  • Comment number 9.

    Just bought a 47 inch LG LED TV with wireless built in so internet based services can be connected like iPlayer, goes by the name "Netcast", imagine my huge disappointment as a deaf customer to learn the iPlayer service available through Netcast on the TV doesn't play across subtitles. Once again the deaf community are rated second class citizens and despite postings like this on a few forums now, no-one has the decency to a) explain why once again we are at the back of the queue and b) whether indeed there are any plans to upgrade the Netcast BBC iPlayer service such that it will carry subtitles like its computer based equivalent? Perhaps now this is posted on a BBC forum we will get a reply? Both Comet and LG say its not their doing and its down to the player service provided by the BBC... over to you!

  • Comment number 10.

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


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