Ofcom have stepped in to enforce a requirement on BSkyB to provide subtitles on their own channels available on Freesat.
Mark Beer, a joinfreesat reader, who suffers from a hearing impairment, lodged a complaint with Ofcom follow failed attempts to communicate directly with BSkyB (and freesat) in reference to DVB subtitles being missing from BSkyB owned channels, Sky News, PickTV and Challenge. These three channels launched on freesat back in December 2012 and have still to this date not implemented the required subtitles in accordance with Ofcom ‘Code on TV Access Services'; yet they are available on Sky, Virgin Media and Freeview.
The successful outcome of this being that Ofcom have forced BSkyB to comply with an expected launch of the end of this month after testing, so anyone who likes to watch these channels and suffer from hearing impairments, or maybe have these channels on in noisy surroundings where the subtitles are needed, you can thank Mark Beer for his persistence.
A copy of Mark’s original communication can be found below (dated 26 January 2013), followed by Ofcom’s response:
I wish to make a complaint regarding a broadcaster who I believe is in beach of the OFCOM Code on TV Access Services.
On 3rd December 2012, BSkyB officially began broadcasting three of its channels on the Freesat satellite platform; Sky News, PickTV and Challenge. By the ‘Freesat’ title, I am NOT referring to the ‘Freesat from Sky’ service but instead the joint-venture ‘Freesat’ service (BBC/ITV).
All of these channels (Sky News, PickTV, and Challenge) are required to broadcast subtitles as per the OFCOM Code on TV Access Services. On other TV platforms (Freeview, Sky, Virgin Media) these channels do indeed broadcast the subtitles as they are required to do so. However on the Freesat platform, these subtitles are completely absence.
From the first day (03/12/12) that these BSkyB channels were available via the Freesat service, they did not include any subtitles output and unfortunately to this date they still do not broadcast any subtitles on these channel (via the Freesat platform).
It is important to note that the official means of broadcasting subtitles is via a technology standard know as ‘DVB Subtitles’ (international standard for video broadcasting) and this means is used on the Freeview, Freesat and Virgin Media platforms. BSkyB chose not to follow the industry standard of DVB Subtitles, and instead implemented the older technology of ‘teletext’ subtitles into their set-top boxes (therefore broadcasters have to output a different kind of digital subtitles stream on the Sky platform).
When these channels first arrived on the Freesat platform, I attempted to contact BSkyB regarding the subtitles fault however I was unable to use the main customer services route as I did not have a subscriber account number. It was very frustrating as I attempted several times to contact BSkyB but each time was informed that I need an account number in order for my enquiry to be dealt with. So instead I informed Freesat so that they could informed BSkyB of their subtitles fault. I was unable to contact Freesat directly so I contacted them via their online community forums, to which I did receive a response from a Freesat staff member (please see here: http://community.freesat.co.uk/t5/Channels-On-Demand/Missing-Subtitles-on-Sky-News-PickTV-Challenge/m-p/938) that they will inform BSkyB of the technical fault.
However after 7 weeks of no change, I decided to try contacting BSkyB again and had no luck in getting past the account-number required stage. When I attempted to make a complaint via the OFCOM website, I noticed a contact email address to the BSkyB Accessible Customer Services. So I sent them an email and finally got a response from BSkyB!. Sadly it was not the response I expected, as they denied any fault and advised me to contact Freesat. Except this is clearly the wrong knowledge as Freesat does not actually broadcast the TV services, and each broadcaster is responsible for ensuring their own channels are outputting the relevant TV Access Services as per the OFCOM Code.
Could I please request that OFCOM look further into this matter? Specifically the lack of DVB-subtitles on the BSkyB channels broadcasting via the Freesat platform (PickTV – ch144, Challenge – ch 145, Sky News – ch 202).
Also if you do conclude that BSkyB was found to be breach of the OFCOM Code on TV Access Services, please can it be noted that BSkyB failed to fully broadcast the TV access services for these channel from 03/12/12 to present day. Therefore the recorded annual target achieved should take this into account, otherwise it is discriminating that Freesat viewers were denied the TV access services that should have been implemented from the first day.
Ofcom response (dated 2 April 2013)
Many thanks for your further e-mail on the issue of subtitling on the relevant Sky channels on the Freesat platform. Following your e-mail I forwarded a request to Sky for their comments on the matter which were delayed in coming back to us. In the end they responded on the 13 March since when your case has been logged on to our system and has been awaiting our response to you. Therefore I apologise for the delay in responding to you on this matter since we received Sky response but I hope you find the following of use. As stated your case has now been logged on to our systems under the following reference number: (removed)
In your original complaint to Ofcom you outlined that Sky News, Pick TV and Challenge did not carry subtitling on the Freesat platform. In this you correctly pointed out that these channels have an obligation to provide subtitling under the Code on Television Access Services and do make these available on the BSkyB, Virgin and Freeview platforms. You also outline that you have tried to bring the issue to the attention of Sky both directly and though Freesat but had no acceptance of the issue nor a resolution form either route. Therefore I am pleased to say that following the case being forwarded to Sky by us they have now offered a time frame for resolving the error.
In their response Sky outlined that an oversight at the time of the channels launch had lead to the omission from subtitles from the transmission of these channels on the Freesat platform. They went on to say that as a matter of urgency they began testing of subtitles in the live environment and are on schedule to have these available by the end of this month. Given this undertaking we shall be liaising with Sky over the coming weeks for an update on this process and should this timetable not be meet we will consider what further action should be taken against them to ensure compliance.
Finally I was sorry to learn that this issue had been raised to Sky by yourself prior to you bringing it to our attention and that it was only this escalation which seemed to have resulted in Sky rectifying the problem. Therefore I would like to thank you for taking the time to persist with this as it would seem a resolution to the matter should be in place in the coming weeks.