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, ITV Hub, All 4 and My5, focusing on the accessibility of the smartphone apps and websites, and availability of audio description (AD) on these services. This blog does not cover accessing these services via a Smart TV.
Please note that information is accurate and correct as of January 2021, but we will update this blog to reflect any changes.
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 not 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.
Broadcasters are frequently advertising their catch-up services, when advertising individual programmes and more generally as part of their advertising campaigns.
BBC iPlayer hosts 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 live.
The BBC is committed to making iPlayer accessible to its visually impaired customers, with the inclusion of audio described programmes, contrast for buttons, keyboard access and screen reader support.
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.
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.
ITV Hub is the home of all of ITV’s programming, including the latest ITV shows, box sets of classic shows and ITV Hub exclusives. You can also use ITV Hub to watch ITV channels live.
On the ITV Hub 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 mostly 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 the ITV Hub, 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’.
Audio description is also available if you watch ITV Hub on your TV via Chromecast.
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.
All 4 is the place to go to watch all of 4’s content. This includes programmes broadcast on Channel 4, E4 and More4; box sets of classics and new shows; and exclusive originals. You can also use All 4 to watch 4’s channels live.
All 4 is committed to accessibility for visually impaired viewers with screen reader support and audio description provision across the website and apps. All 4 has a lot of information on their website regarding access to All 4 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 – unlike on BBC iPlayer and ITV Hub, there is no dedicated ‘audio described’ category, however when browsing by category, you can apply filters so that only audio described programmes are listed. This can be done on both the app and website.
All 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.
Unlike on BBC iPlayer and ITV Hub, audio described programmes can be downloaded and watched offline. Unfortunately however, it is not possible to watch audio described programmes on All 4 via Chromecast.
All 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.
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.
It is good to see TV providers making their content accessible to visually impaired people across different platforms.
While there are a couple of areas for improvement, having a visual impairment does not have to stop you catching up on your favourite shows.
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