Catch-up TV

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The way people watch TV programs and other video content has changed rapidly over recent years. Many major broadcasters in Australia and other countries have introduced online catch-up TV services, consumers are watching TV on a wide range of devices, and video on demand services are making DVDs and Blu-ray disks obsolete.

While broadcast captioning has now reached 100% between 6am and midnight on the networks' primary channels in Australia, providers of catch-up TV and video on demand have been slow to deliver captioned content online. The ABC's iview, SBS On Demand and Seven's Plus7 are the only online catch-up television services in Australia which carry captioning.

  • On ABC's iview, all prime-time programs from ABC1 and ABC2 are captioned, and captions are also supported by the ABC iview iPhone and iPad apps.
  • Captions are currently available for non-live programs on SBS On Demand, and it is planned to eventually extend them to live programs.
  • Plus7 currently provides captions for Seven's major non-live programs.

Captions can be activated on all three services by clicking on the 'CC' button at the bottom of the video player.

Internationally, the take-up of captions online has been faster. In the UK, the BBC’s iPlayer, became the first catch-up service to provide captions in 2008, with captioning levels now around 90%. The ITV Player and Channel 4’s 4oD also provide significant levels of captioned programming.

So far, the US is the only country which has introduced legislation to deal with the issue of online captioning of TV programs. The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 stipulates that any TV program which was broadcast with captions must also be captioned if distributed over the internet. In January 2012, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released the rules it had adopted to oversee the process. The provision of captions for new TV programs which have not been edited for distribution on the internet has been mandatory since 30 September 2012.

Audio description is rare on catch-up TV services, although in the UK, the BBC's iPlayer, 4oD, Channel Entertainment and Sky offer it. In Australia, a trial of audio description on the ABC's iview commenced in April 2015 and went for 15 months. During the trial, 14 hours of audio described programs was added to iview each week.

The Turnbull Government set up a new taskforce in April 2017 with the aim of improving TV accessibility. It is due to report findings by the end of 2017. More information can be found at: Government forms Working Group on AD for TV.


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Tags: TV & video