Deaf News: Subtitle protestors have Sky TV in their sights

Posted on May 29, 2014

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Following Love Film / Amazon’s commitment to subtitling their online video content, subtitle campaigners are turning their attention to Sky TV once again. Sky TV will be the only remaining provider out of the big three in the UK, including Netflix, not to provide subtitles on their online or on demand content.

Netflix have provided subtitles since losing a court battle in the United States and Amazon Prime, which took over Love Film, revealed they would follow suit after comedian Mark Thomas slapped embarrassing signs above the front door at Amazon’s London HQ earlier this month – that followed a popular online petition.

Earlier this year we reported how deaf teenager Jamie Danjoux from Newcastle launched  his own online petition against Sky – the number of signatories on that petition has swelled to over 2,300 – and last night campaigners converged on Sky’s Facebook page after a customer posted a complaint.

Sky offers subtitles across many of their channels, including flagship channels Sky1 and Sky News. Subtitles are also available on the Sky Movie channels and on many Sky Sports channels too. Many other broadcasters on the platform, such as kids channel Nickelodeon, provide subtitles but many also do not.

Notable exceptions include the SyFy channel. SyFy have come under criticism for removing subtitles from shows that are available to download illegally with subtitles included. Apparently even pirates care about accessibility.

The Sky+ TV recording system will also automatically record subtitles if they were broadcast but the amount of programming that must be subtitled by any channel as it is broadcast is determined by Ofcom regulations and is proportionate to the share of viewers that the channel has – so there is no legal requirement for many of the channels available on Sky to subtitle their content.

However, the biggest source of frustrations about Sky do not come from the content that is broadcast but the content available on their heavily advertised On Demand and Sky Go platforms – none of which are subtitled.

Sky say they are working on the problem – but in recent responses have been been light on the detail and seen by deaf people as part of a fobbing-off exercise.  Past reasons given by Sky have centred around issues of disc space available to store subtitles on the Sky receiver boxes, rather than the actual capability of the system.

That excuse was given short shrift by some campaigners as subtitle files are said to take up a tiny amount of memory in comparison to the many HD films Sky boxes can store. Until more information is released by Sky about what the technical issues really are and an idea of the time it will take to resolve them, it is likely that the pressure on them will grow and grow as paying deaf customers feel increasing frustration about their exclusion from Sky’s innovations. You can sign Jamie Danjoux’s petition here.

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In other developments, there was some good subtitle news delivered yesterday. BBC iPlayer now supports subtitles on downloads on the Android and iOS platforms.

And, for when the subtitles don’t work so well, BBC’s See hear will have a special on the Horror of online Subtitles in a couple of weeks.

By Andy Palmer, Deputy Editor. 

Andy is Chairman of the Peterborough and District Deaf Children’s Society and teaches sign language in primary schools. Contact him on twitter @LC_AndyP

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