Ofcom consultation on audio description (until 12 November 09 ...
Audio Description MP briefing
Ofcom is currently consulting on whether the amount of audio description
(AD) on TV should be increased. Legislation requires that every digital
TV channel broadcasts 10 per cent of their programmes with AD. We
think the minimum amount of AD should be increased to 20 per cent
(Option 2 in Ofcom's consultation).
What is Audio Description?
Audio Description (AD) is like a narrator telling a story, an additional
commentary that describes body language, expressions and movements
that someone with sight loss would not see, making the story clear
AD is available on digital TV, on DVDs, in cinemas, galleries and
museums as well as major sporting venues and exhibition centres.
Currently the Communications Act (2003) only requires 10 per cent of
television programmes to be audio described, thus limiting access,
understanding and enjoyment of television for people with sight loss.
Although the BBC is not governed by the Communications Act
requirement, it has implemented this requirement on its channels as well.
In September 2009 Ofcom launched the 2009 Access Services Review
to consult on future levels of audio description.
How much Audio description is currently available?
At present many broadcasters are currently exceeding their 10 per cent
requirement. AD provision increased from 14.8 per cent in late 2008 to
17.5 per cent in early 2009. This can be attributed to the voluntary
increase to 20 per cent that Sky implemented in March 2009 for its own
CHANNE AD TARGET Percentage broadcast in the first
L % quarter of 2009
BBC 1 10 16.1
BBC 2 10 12.3
BBC 3 10 26.8
BBC 4 10 17.7
ITV 1 10 13.6
CHANNEL 5 10 15
S4C 10 14.6
What are we calling for?
RNIB is calling on the Secretary of State to use his powers to increase
audio description to 20 per cent of all programmes.
What research has been conducted?
In early 2008, 16 broadcasters together with Ofcom and RNIB delivered
an extensive campaign to increase awareness of audio description. In
June 2008 Ofcom published research which measured awareness levels.
Awareness of AD before and after the awareness raising campaign
2008 (before) 2008 (after)
General public 37 60 per cent
Visually impaired 43 72 per cent
Severe + profound sight loss 61 82 per cent
Moderate sight loss 40 66 per cent
Mild sight loss 26 66 per cent
The Ofcom research found "increasing the amount of audio described
programming would be the main way of increasing usage among the
visually impaired community".
40 per cent of people with severe/profound visual impairment report
using AD, 11 per cent with moderate visual impairment and 2 per cent
with mild visual impairment
Nearly all users of AD feel that using the service improves their
understanding and enjoyment of TV programmes.
Ofcom does not have the power to increase the targets as they form part
of the Communications Act 2003 but will conclude the review by making
a recommendation. However the decision to increase the targets needs
to be made by the Secretary of State.
Ofcom Access Services Review
In September 2009 Ofcom launched the 2009 Access Services Review.
The review closes on 12 November 2009 and we expect it to report early
2010. The review sets out three options for audio description:
1. No change (ie AD targets remain at 10 per cent)
2. An increase in AD targets to 20 per cent for all TV channels (with
annual increments of two per cent)
3. An increase in AD targets to 20 per cent on the 10 PSB channels only
(BBC 1,2,3,4, CBBC, CBeebies, ITV1, C4, Five and S4C)
RNIB supports Option 2 which will provide blind and partially sighted
people of all ages and backgrounds with as equal access to the benefits
of television programming as possible.
How will broadcasters achieve the 20 per cent target?
Broadcasters, many of who have already reached 10 per cent, will be
expected to increase their AD output by two per cent each year until they
reach 20 per cent. Broadcasters can choose which programmes they
audio describe. Ofcom uses audience share and turnover to decide
which channels must provide AD.
What has the Government said?
In February 2009 the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
stated that he “would like to see progress on this issue by the end of the
In March 2009 at an adjournment debate Barbara Follet, Minister for
Culture, said that the Government would wait for evidence from Ofcom’s
Access Services review.
RNIB believes that the Secretary of State should now make a clear
political commitment after the Access Services Review ends to swiftly
implement a phased increase in targets to reach 20 per cent.
How much does Audio Description cost to broadcasters?
Most broadcasters have contracts with specialist audio description
companies whilst some produce audio description in-house. In
September 2009 Ofcom estimated that AD cost £443 per hour. This is a
small percentage of the overall costs and Ofcom notes "costs have
tended to decline in recent years, and may continue to do so".
Which types of programmes should be audio described?
RNIB believes that programmes where AD provides the most benefit
should be audio described. Blind and partially sighted people, just like
the wider sighted audience, watch a wide range of programming.
Increasing the availability of audio description to 20 per cent would
provide that wider range of programmes with audio description.
Ofcom does not require the provision of audio description on music and
news programmes on grounds of technical difficulty. These programme
also include little space within the dialogue/sound track to provide audio
description, and less need.1
Do your constituents have to pay to receive AD?
There isn't a charge for AD however you do need a digital TV. At present
89 per cent of the population have digital TV. This will increase as each
region of the UK switches to digital TV and is why we believe now is the
right time to increase the amount of AD.
What equipment do you need to receive AD?
Digital Satellite (Freesat and Sky) and Digital Cable (Virgin Media)
viewers have AD delivered with their service. It needs to be switched on
using the remote control handset and some on-screen visual menus.
However not all Digital Terrestrial (Freeview) equipment can receive the
AD signal but the amount is increasing. AD options available for
Freeview currently are:
• Many IDTVs (a television that has a built in Freeview box)
• a Freeview set-top box from RNIB (TVonics brand)
• a limited amount of commercial set top boxes
Getting hold of AD ready equipment can be challenging for your blind
and partially sighted constituents, as shop assistants may not be aware
of AD and manufacturers do not always provide this information about
their product. Your constituents can receive advice from our helpline
0303 123 9999 and on our website.
How can your Constituents get help to access Audio Description?
The government's Digital Switchover Help Scheme provides and installs
equipment that receives audio description for a charge. Please contact
us for more information.
Does IPTV (internet television) such as BBC iPlayer and the ITV
player have AD?
IPTV is not covered by the Communications Act 2003 so it does not have
to be audio described. However in August 2009 we welcomed the BBC's
decision to provide audio description on the BBC iPlayer. RNIB is
encouraging other broadcasters, including ITV, Channel 4 and Sky, and
digital TV platforms, including BT Vision and Canvas, to make audio
description of IPTV the norm.
Important! Is Freeview available in your Constituency?
Some areas of the UK still can't access Freeview at present and between
five and ten per cent of aerials need upgrading in order to receive the
signal. The Digital UK website has a postcode checker which will tell you
whether Freeview is already available in your area. It can be found at:
For further information please contact:
John Dickinson-Lilley - Parliamentary Officer
T: 020 7391 3267