Conducted by the Australian Institute, the survey showed that out of the 1294 respondents, 94% said they were aware of captioning, 30% said they sometimes used it and 3% said they always used the service when watching television.
The new research is significant, not only because it is the first comprehensive national survey of caption usage conducted in Australia, but because the percentage of people who say they sometimes use captions (30%) is higher than the estimated 18.7% of the population who have a hearing impairment.
“This tells us people use captions for different reasons that aren’t necessarily hearing-related – it could be to watch TV late at night without disturbing the household, or in a noisy environment when the sound cannot be adjusted,” said Mr Hawkins. “It also shows that the networks are missing out on a large potential audience at a time when they are attempting to attract viewers to their new digital channels.”
In the wake of the survey, the ACCAN and Media Access Australia are calling on the major television networks to include comprehensive captioning on digital free-to-air multichannels, which are currently exempt from the captioning regulations that cover the main channels.
“Under the current rules, programs which previously screened on one network don’t need to be captioned if screened on another network’s multichannels, even though captions would be available,” said ACCAN Disability Policy Adviser Wayne Hawkins. “So some networks are choosing not to caption them. It’s infuriating for viewers when they turn on a series that they used to watch with captions and the captions aren’t there. We’d like to see all programs captioned as standard practice.”
While hearing loss is an age-related condition, with 2.6 million people aged over 60 affected, the study found that younger people aged 18-24 years of age were the group that most often reported using captions “sometimes”.
“We think this is likely due to young people’s ability to multitask – they might have the TV on in the background while they’re chatting to someone on Skype or doing their homework,” said MAA spokesman Chris Mikul. “Gen Y’s are typically pretty good with technology as they’ve grown up with it. This tells us that they are not only aware of how closed captioning works – they’re turning it on.”
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