TV catch-up services: how accessible are they?

This blog will discuss the accessibility of four of the UK’s major TV catch-up services: BBC iPlayer, ITVX, Channel 4 and My5, focusing on accessibility for visually impaired people, and availability of audio description.

TV catch-up services are online video-on-demand (VOD) services that allow viewers to watch programmes that were broadcast on television. Many catch-up services also offer exclusive content in advance of it being aired on linear TV.

With the increase in availability of on-demand access to TV shows and films, the ways in which we are able to watch television are changing, with many broadcasters taking a digital first approach.

Broadcasters are frequently advertising their catch-up services, when advertising individual programmes and more generally as part of their advertising campaigns, even advertising programmes that have already been broadcast on television, or are yet to be broadcast on television, to encourage viewers to access their on-demand services.

BBC iPlayer

BBC iPlayer is the home of all of the BBC’s programmes from all BBC channels, as well as online exclusives. You can also use BBC iPlayer to watch BBC channels, including restarting programmes and pausing and rewinding programmes.

BBC iPlayer has many features to enhance its accessibility, including audio described programmes, contrast for buttons, and screen reader support across many devices and platforms.

The website has many accessibility features – there are various ways to find programmes, programme information is easily accessible and buttons in the media player are clearly labelled.

There are two ways to access audio described content on the iPlayer’s website. One way is to select ‘categories’ on the iPlayer’s home page and then select ‘audio described’. From there, you can browse all programmes that have audio description.

Alternatively, if you land on a programme page from anywhere on iPlayer, if the programme is audio described, there will be a link labelled ‘go to audio described version’, which when clicked, will take you straight to the audio described version.

The app is also compatible with major screen readers including VoiceOver and TalkBack.

It is also possible to watch audio described programmes within the iPlayer app.

In order to do this, go to the ‘Settings’ section of the iPlayer app and toggle ‘new video controls’ to on. Once this is enabled, find the programme you want to watch and toggle ‘audio description’ to on. Once it is enabled, audio description will work on all programmes if it is available, regardless of how you access the programme from within the app.

There is also an ‘audio described’ category so you can browse all programmes that have audio description.

If you use your smartphone to watch BBC iPlayer on your TV through a Google Chromecast, audio description will also work.

Unfortunately, audio description does not work on downloaded programmes so you will need an Internet connection if you want to watch an audio described programme.

You can also watch audio described programmes on Smart TVs and smart devices, however, with the exception of Apple TV, the app is not very accessible.

Even though smart TVs from some manufacturers including Samsund and LG feature built-in screen reader capabilities, these do not work with external apps like BBC iPlayer, and the others mentioned in this blog.

BBC iPlayer has a lot of features making it accessible to visually impaired people and the BBC is committed to the accessibility of the app and website.

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ITVX is the home of all of ITV’s programming, including the latest ITV shows, box sets of classic shows and ITVX exclusives.

If you have an ITVX premium subscription, you can also watch content uploaded to Britbox, another streaming service that houses classic TV shows from broadcasters including the BBC, ITV and Channel 4.

You can also use ITVX to watch ITV channels live.

On the ITVX website, you can browse and search for programmes, watch programmes and watch ITV channels live. However, while browsing and searching for programmes is compatible with screen readers, there are lots of unlabelled buttons in the media player making it more difficult to access with a screen reader.

Furthermore, there is no Audio Described category on the ITV Hub website and there is no other way to enable audio description.

The apps for iOS and Android are compatible with screen readers, and you can watch audio described programmes using both of these apps.

In order to watch audio described programmes, select ‘AD’ from within the categories section of the app, and you will be presented with a list of all the programmes that have audio description available.

If you use iOS and have ‘audio descriptions’ enabled in Settings, when you open ITVX it will automatically present you with the list of audio described programmes. To enable Audio Descriptions, go to Settings > Accessibility > Audio Descriptions and make sure it is toggled to ‘on’.

Some smart TVS and devices, including Samsung TVs and Apple TV, feature the ability to watch audio described versions of programmes.

As with BBC iPlayer, it is not possible to download audio described programmes and you cannot enable audio description for watching channels live.

The ITV Hub has various accessibility features across its iOS and Android apps, making it possible for visually impaired people to access it. However, there are still improvements that could be made to its website to enhance its accessibility.

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Channel 4

Channel 4 is the place to go to watch all of 4’s content. This includes programmes broadcast on the Channel 4 TV channel, E4 and More4; box sets of classics and new shows; and exclusive originals. You can also use the Channel 4 streaming service to watch 4’s channels live.

Channel 4 includes features to enhance accessibility, including screen reader support and audio description provision across the website and apps. Channel 4 has a lot of information on its website regarding access to the service for visually impaired people.

On the apps and website, you can browse programmes, search for a particular show and, as mentioned, watch channels live.

On both the website and apps, audio description is toggled on and off within the playback screen.

Channel 4 also indicates when an episode of a programme is audio described so you can know if audio description is available for a show before you start watching.

Channel 4 is very committed to the access needs of visually impaired people and hosts a range of features to make the service accessible to as many people as possible.

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My5 is the place to go to watch programmes broadcast across the Channel 5 family, including Channel 5, 5Star, 5USA, 5Select and the Paramount Network.

Previously Demand5, My5 was initially very inaccessible to visually impaired people, however since October 2019, accessibility of the service has improved and the website and apps are now compatible with screen readers.

It is possible to browse and search for programmes and watch live TV channels.

Audio description is available on the My5 apps and website – to enable it for all programmes within the iOS app, go to Settings with in the ‘more’ tab and ensure that Audio Description is toggled to ‘on’. Audio description will also work if you watch a programme via Chromecast.

To enable AD on the website, activate the audio description button once you start watching a programme.

While the app is compatible with screen readers, the playback screen may prove more difficult to access and navigate so you may need to use trial and error if you want to pause programmes and seek backwards and forwards within a programme.

Overall, My5 offers various accessibility features for visually impaired people and accessibility is available on both the app and website.

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Final Thoughts

It is good to see TV providers making their content accessible to visually impaired people across different platforms.

While there are areas for improvement, broadcasters have implemented many solutions to ensure accessibility for visually impaired individuals.

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