The lengthy disruption to access services on Channel 4 is to be investigated by the regulator Ofcom.
Access services include subtitles, audio description and signing and are relied upon by the deaf, hard-of-hearing, blind and partially-sighted.
Last September, an incident at the Red Bee Media Broadcast Centre in West London led to several broadcasters’ operations and their access services. Channel 4 was the worst affected with an extended outage from 25 September 2021 that wasn’t fully resolved until 19 November 2021.
“These problems caused deep upset and frustration among the millions of people who rely on subtitles, signing or audio description to enjoy TV. Channel 4 took several weeks to provide a clear, public plan and timeline for fixing the problems,” said Kevin Bakhurst, Ofcom’s Group Director for Broadcasting. “As well as investigating Channel 4, we’re reviewing the wider effects of the outage to make sure broadcasters learn lessons and protect access services in future.”
Despite the outage, Ofcom has established Channel 4 still managed to meet its statutory requirement to subtitle 90% of its programme hours over 2021 – largely by overperforming outside of the outage period. It also met the requirements for audio description and signing.
However, the outage caused Channel 4 to fall short of its subtitling quota on Freesat.
The free-to-air satellite platform reaches around 2 million homes.
The investigation will include how far Channel 4 promoted awareness of the availability of its access services, across all its channels and platforms, during the period of the outage.
A review will also take place into the transmission arrangements and backup facilities for all the affected broadcasters.