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BBC iPlayer Accessibility Update and Comments

Since I last blogged about the BBC's iPlayer, there's been developments but the access still leaves a lot to be desired.

Sign Zone now has a category of its own

People might remember that I complained about the trying to find a needle in the haystack, when attempting to source signed programmes. The BBC's Access 2.0 picked up on my comments in this blog post.

It seems the BBC has finally listened (yay!) and now has a Sign Zone category. Finally we can find programmes, to actually watch.

Subtitles - A Recent History

Subtitling has been riddled with problems within the past year, and for months we were without any subtitles. This was actually difficult to get the BBC to take any note, and for months it became talking to a brick wall. Replies you got were along the lines that painted you as a dunce, not knowing how to turn the subtitles on, instead of an end user who was capable of navigating and seeing something different.

Subtitling Now - The Theory

From the BBC's information page:

The programme information pages will let you know if subtitles are available above the Download button – if they’re available you’ll see Includes optional subtitles.

And you need an up to date download manager (which incidentally I have):

Click on the S button, which will only appear when subtitles are available, to make any subtitles viewable. If you have problems watching subtitles in full-screen mode, make sure you have the latest version of the Download Manager.

More information here, including turning on subtitles in Windows Media Player.

That's the theory, important read under the next sub header!

Subtitles in Practice - Labelling content as subtitled when it is not!

This is my current number one gripe. Absence of subtitles is annoying, but labelling programmes as being subtitled and they are not takes a sharp hike in the annoying scales. Here's an example, it says the programme to download contains subtitles:


So believing the BBC to be trusted, and factual you go ahead and download 400mb, only to find there's no subtitles to be had:


That is the latest version of iPlayer, and I know the S button works because it has been displayed for programmes that has actually contained subtitles.

Some examples of recent programmes labelled as subtitled, but actually not:

- Ex-Forces and Homeless
- Have I Got News For You (this week, last week, week before)
- Inside the Medieval Mind

There's more, but you get the picture. I've downloaded well over 4gb of supposed subtitled programmes recently, and only one of these programme was subtitled. Without subtitles I cannot access programmes, its as simple as that. Yet I'm expected to trust the BBC's access information, take the trouble to download something, to find out this information is wrong. So I take a chance with another programme, and another and the same mistakes are happening.

This all uses bandwidth. If that goes over my ISP limit I have to fork out additional charges, not to mention the power used perform these tasks. The BBC's negligence - because that is what it is, make no mistake about it - costs me money. Its not a one off mistake to forget to add subtitles, its recurring to the extent that the system cannot be trusted.

What's happening here? The BBC labelling programmes as subtitles to tick off some target, or something not co-ordinated?

Subtitling iPlayer - The Future

Subtitles for live streaming is not yet available, but indicates that it already should be:

At present, subtitles are only available for downloads, although we are working on making subtitles available for Click to Play (streaming) from early 2008.

The BBC missed that target then, since early 2008 has been and gone!

Jonathan Hassell, Acting Head of Audience Experience & Usability, said on the the BBC internet blog:

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.

This needs to happen as soon as possible, as a deaf people appear to be disproportionate users of alternative platforms. (The downloaded version of iPlayer only works on Windows). He goes onto state:

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.

That is good news, and I would certainly like to see subtitles available for Wii. Currently, we have two lots of downloads happening in my household - my family accesses iPlayer via Wii, and me via a download button (often to discover the subtitles aren't there). This puts pressure on bandwidth load, because I cannot watch iPlayer with the rest of the household. Why should we have to download something twice, because of a lack of access?

However, there's a case of part wanting to tell the BBC to walk before it can run here. Sort out your current problems first, because labelling is laughable. Its annoying. It cannot be that difficult to fix? Be honest, tell me its not subtitled before making me download.

See also:
BBC & accessible online content
iPlayer: A Deaf Perspective
BBC on YouTube, but where's the subtitles?
BBC iPlayer, Part 2
BBC Vision Celebrates 100% Subtitling


I completely agree, i love watching top gear, QI, stephen fry etc.... and I cant because of no subtitles

i feel your pain, ive written emails to the BBC to complain. Not fair that the deaf get excluded

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