Tyron Woolfe: Pre-recorded Subtitles Rule. Broadcasters take note.

Posted on November 21, 2012

Let’s get it clear. Pre-recorded subtitles mean subtitles appear on a programme with perfect timing, and the words on the screen match what is being said.

Live subtitles are where subtitles appear a few seconds after the spoken word. BBC news is a perfect example. The words are either typed at the same time via phonetic typing, or repeated via speech into computer software.

It makes sense to use live subtitles for live programmes. What is illogical is using live subtitling for programmes that are pre-recorded.

Have you tried watching the Alan Carr or Jonathan Ross chat shows? Usually wonderful hilarious interviews feature dialogue so fast that often, live subtitles mean we simply don’t “get it” in time! Have you tried watching nature documentaries with live subtitles? Often, the words appear to be about something that was screened 30 seconds ago.

Broadcasters will never understand the issue unless they watch something with the sound appearing 10 seconds after.

Live subtitles can be accepted on programmes like the news and other live shows like X-factor (where there’s been some improvement in the last couple of years thanks to my colleague, Ian Noon and others) however, even X-Factor’s subtitles have become really shoddy in the last few weeks.

Live subtitles become intolerable when you sit down to watch a pre-recorded show and suddenly realise the subtitles don’t match what is being said. It’s also a cause of family tension when a Deaf person wants to change the channel because they can’t follow the programme.

Then you make an official complaint and you get a standard reply. You reply to the reply and they still don’t get it. You end up getting an apology from the BBC 3 or 4 months later.

The other thing that has started happening is some of the replies to complaints tell us to watch the subtitled programme via iPlayer. This shouldn’t become an excuse for not subtitling it properly during the live broadcast. Plus, subtitles often aren’t right on iPlayer until a few days later.

Name and shame

I think we (deaf people and hearing allies) need to start pointing out when subtitles are letting us down. We need to say when it does not work – and also champion the times it does work well.

Here’s a few of my most recent tweets:

Tyron Woolfe BBC Apprentice
November 1 at 10:05pm
thanks for making sure the programme had PRE-RECORDED subtitles, us deaf and hard of hearing viewers enjoyed it immensely! PLEASE dont use any LIVE subtitling for the rest of the series, its happened before!

Tyron Woolfe ‏@TyronWoolfe
@itv @wossy everyone laughs and i dont get it? Subtitles so out of sync. No logic as the prog was prerecorded

However the impact of my own comments/tweets have been fairly limited. They’ve “fallen on deaf ears” – pardon the pun! But perhaps the more we do this, the more the deaf audience will be noticed.

So from now on, please use this hashtag to point out pre-recorded programmes with live subtitles.


Let’s make our views heard!

Tyron Woolfe has worked with deaf children and young people for almost over twenty years, as a Volunteer, Co-ordinator, Leader, Mentor, Researcher and Deputy Director. He really enjoys Coronation Street, the Apprentice and South Korean horror movies! He is currently raising money for Movember to support men’s health – (hence the ugly growing moustache of two weeks) and you can sponsor him at: http://mobro.co/tyronwoolfe1. You can also follow him on Twitter as @tyronwoolfe
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