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Subtitles & Signing Advances On BBC iPlayer

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Jonathan Hassell | 12:19 UK time, Thursday, 8 May 2008

Yesterday, BBC Director General Mark Thompson and the RNID held a reception at the House of Commons to celebrate 100% subtitling of programmes across the main BBC TV channels.

So, today's a good day for me to post an update to my previous blog post, looking at the progress we have made on providing subtitles and signed content for BBC iPlayer.

So what's changed?

Firstly, subtitles are now available for many iPlayer programme downloads, making iPlayer one of the only IPTV services in the world to include subtitles.

It is now easy to find these programmes - look out for "Include optional subtitles" on iPlayer programme information pages and "Subtitles available" in the iPlayer Download Manager. And to get the best subtitles experience, you may need to update your version of the iPlayer Download Manager - see here for more details.

So why is this not 100%?

Vintage Ceefax screenshot of subtitles. Taken with conventional stills camera mounted in front of TV screen. Scans from transparency. Taken between 1978 and 1983.

It's a technology thing. We're currently concentrating on the delivery of subtitles for pre-recorded TV output, and have the technology and production processes in place to make this work. Our priority is to ensure that we deliver the correct subtitles for each downloadable programme as well as delivering the best viewing experience for the audience.

Going forwards, next on the roadmap is adding subtitles to iPlayer streams, which is something we're working hard on and hope to have ready some time in June or July.

After that we'll be looking at the possibility of making subtitles available for iPlayer on other platforms, such as the Wii or iPhone. We'll also be looking at the possibility of providing subtitles for those programmes which use live subtitles or those time-sensitive programmes which tend to change minutes before transmission. That's a whole new challenge.

I'll let you know how we fare.

Moving on to signing: in March, we added a dedicated Sign Zone area to iPlayer, allowing one-click access to all signed programmes. This means iPlayer has enabled the BBC to provide what many of our British Sign Language users have regularly asked us for - access to a directory of recent BBC signed programmes, and the ability to watch those programmes at a time which is convenient to them. The content is available in both streamed and download forms. It's even available on the iPhone.

We hope that the BSL community welcomes this move, and is now able to better access the BBC's Signed programmes.

We'd love to hear your feedback on subtitles or signed programmes on iPlayer, so please send any comments through to the BBC Usability & Accessibility Team.

Jonathan Hassell is Acting Head of Audience Experience & Usability, BBC Future Media & Technology.


  • Comment number 1.

    Good stuff.

  • Comment number 2.

    Glad to see that online is catching up with broadcast.

    Are the problems sorted from a few weeks ago when some iPlayer downloads had the subtitles from completely different shows? Made for some humorous moments ... but no use to anyone needing to follow the action through the subtitles.

  • Comment number 3.

    When can you introduce technology so that in vision signing is available via the red button on normal TV?

    I'm sure this would make everyone happy - those who use it (more available without people moaning), and those who don't (don't have it obscuring their viewing).

  • Comment number 4.

    The major failing here is programmes are being labelled as subtitled when in fact they are not. The download indicates the programme carries subtitles, and when you go to play there's no S button.

    Two weeks ago, I downloaded EIGHT programmes that were labelled as subtitled. This is over 2gb worth of bandwidth, and totally unusable to me, and ultimately the BBC's negligence costs me money.

    Whether a programme actually carries subtitles or not, is very much a luck of the draw. The BBC needs to sort it out. Also it would be good to have subtitles on the flash version, since deaf non-Windows users can't actually access any programmes yet. (Deaf people appear to be disproportionate users of alternative platforms).

    I would also like to know when the BBC plans on providing subtitles for e.g. subtitles for news videos. The BBC's accessibility guidelines state:

    "8.1. You SHOULD provide subtitles/captions (that can be turned off and on) for all AV content. This includes AV content featured in interactive features or Flash games."

    So why isn't this being enforced in practice?

  • Comment number 5.

  • Comment number 6.

    One issue...when BBC got 100% subtitling, they celebrated with RNID? I have an issue with this because many many deaf people who did not work with RNID at all whatsoever did much hard work in getting subtitles on the TV.

    For example - Deaf Broadcasting Council. They was the outfit that took a TV with all speakers removed and took it to the Number 10 Downing Street to ask the Prime Minister of the day if he could follow it.

    Naturally the PM couldn't and it was a powerful message of how deaf people can't follow the TV without subtitles etc. All of this was done without RNID. There are many other people that did the same sort of thing.

    But BBC doing it with RNID is giving the impression that they (RNID) was the sole organisation that got BBC to do 100% subtitles. This is nothing short of an insult to many other people that worked hard and campaigned for subtitles on the TV etc.

    And RNID with their vast PR dept reap all the credit. Brilliant(!)


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