It is evident that the shift in television viewing habits shows no signs of stopping. As of 2017 ITV counted 17 million ITV Hub users whilst 63% of UK adults use BBC iPlayer. However, the growth of catch-up television services and on-demand subscription services has not resulted in every viewer benefiting from an increased choice of what to watch and when. Viewers with hearing and/or sight impairments depend on subtitles, signing or audio description ("Access Services"). And whilst traditional broadcast television channels are obliged by law to ensure a certain proportion of their programmes accessible, there are no such legal requirements for on-demand providers. Ofcom's latest report shows that 62% of on-demand providers offer no Access Services.
Aims of the Consultation
To guide the development of a more accessible service which on-demand providers could reasonably be expected to deliver; Ofcom has launched a consultation document that it is hoped will inform the regulations envisaged in the Digital Economy Act 2017. The consultation consists of twenty questions and Ofcom anticipates feedback from providers, users and potential users of on-demand services.
Focus areas of the Consultation
Ofcom claim the consultation will "inform regulations which are effective, proportionate, flexible and fit to apply to a diverse and developing video on-demand industry." Ofcom has identified three issues it considers key to achieving this:
1. What type of intervention is required?
The Access Services required for on-demand services are no different to those provided on traditional broadcast television but the usability of such services within the on-demand sphere needs to be addressed. Ofcom invites views on whether a requirement to include usability features such as: the provision of information relating to Access Services or the provision of accessible catalogues; should be included within the regulations or instead addressed in Ofcom's associated code of guidance.
2. Which services should be subject to what type of requirement?
Ofcom propose three core grounds on which this question can be answered:
a) audience benefit; b) cost / affordability; and c) practicability.
Ofcom acknowledge that a balance must be struck between ensuring service users gain greater Access Services without providers being adversely and disproportionately affected operationally or financially. Ofcom invites views on whether the above grounds are appropriate or whether there are further grounds on which programmes or services should be differentiated (i.e. prioritised, excluded or subject to different requirements).
3. How should requirements be introduced?
Obtaining measurable progress is one of the consultations' main objectives. Ofcom invites views on whether such progress can be best achieved through quotas or through a phased introduction or whether another method would be more appropriate.
The consultation is open for responses until 5pm on Friday 16 March 2018. On-demand service providers would be well placed to consult with service users before this date to aid in the formulation of more reasoned and evidential responses to the consultation.
Following receipt of consultation responses Ofcom will provide recommendations to Government and publish a public statement outlining those recommendations. Following the introduction of any regulations by the Government, Ofcom expect to further consult on a guidance code to complement the regulations.
For further detailed information see the Ofcom Consultation: How should On-demand Programme Services be made accessible?