Delays in TV subtitling remain an issue for viewers

Ofcom today published its second report<http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/consultations/subtitling/sampling-results-2/> on the quality of live subtitles in UK TV programmes.

The report shows that broadcasters are beginning to make improvements in some areas of subtitling. However, it finds that some issues – such as the delays between speech and the corresponding subtitle appearing on screen, known as latency – remain a problem.

subtitles

Ofcom welcomes the fact that broadcasters are now making greater use of block subtitles in live programmes. These allow several words to appear at once as a single block and are easier and quicker for viewers to read than scrolling subtitles.

Last year, Ofcom required broadcasters to start measuring the quality of live TV subtitles. This work is intended to identify areas where broadcasters can improve subtitles to benefit viewers.

Today’s report is the second of four Ofcom is publishing over two years. Each report samples data from broadcasters on the quality of live TV subtitles – measuring their accuracy, speed and latency. The first report<http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/consultations/subtitling/sampling-results/> was published in April 2014.

Latency:
The latest report finds that delays in subtitles reaching the screen continue to be a problem for viewers. For example, when programmes with live subtitles have frequent changes of scene – such as on Channel 4’s Gogglebox – viewers can find it difficult to know which scene the subtitles relate to.

Poor latency is one of the most frustrating aspects of live subtitling for TV viewers, who say that these delays result in a disjointed viewing experience.

Accuracy:
The accuracy of subtitling was rated as generally good by external reviewers auditing the data on behalf of Ofcom, although the quality varied. Ofcom’s external reviewers advise that a 98% accuracy score is seen as an acceptable standard (Figure 2).

Ofcom understands that broadcasters are now making greater efforts to provide subtitlers with advance information, such as running orders, pre-recorded film segments and scripts, on live programmes such as the news.

Speed:
In general, the programme subtitles sampled for the purposes of our second report met Ofcom’s current guidelines, which recommend a maximum speed of 160 – 180 words per minute.

The average speed of the subtitles (143 words per minute) was well below the recommended maximum, though there were some instances where speeds were unacceptably high. Speeds above the recommended maximum make it more difficult for viewers to read subtitles while watching the images on the screen.

Changes to help improve quality of subtitles:
Ofcom’s first report on subtitles encouraged broadcasters to make greater use of block subtitles in live programmes. These allow several words to appear at once as a single block and are easier and quicker for viewers to read than scrolling subtitles.

Today’s report finds that broadcasters are now using more pre-prepared block subtitling in live programmes, which is welcomed by Ofcom.

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