Written evidence submitted by RNID


RNID Response to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee Pre-legislative scrutiny of the Draft Media Bill

About Us

1.1   RNID is the charity making life fully inclusive for deaf people and those with hearing loss or tinnitus. We fund research to find a cure for hearing loss – driving the development of new technology; campaign to change public perception and policy for deaf people and those with hearing loss or tinnitus; and provide practical information and support.


1.2   RNID has been campaigning since June 2015 for the Government to introduce legally binding quotas for access services on on-demand TV. In 2017, the Government passed the Digital Economy Act which included a clause to give the TV regulator, Ofcom, the power to set quotas for on-demand services.


1.3   Since 2017, RNID has responded to two consultations by Ofcom on what the quotas should be and how they should be implemented. However, the Government has been slow to bring forward the necessary secondary legislation to enforce the quotas.


1.4   In April 2023, the Government published a Draft Media Bill which laid out that they would be adopting the recommendations made by Ofcom following their consultations.[1] This included binding targets of 80% for subtitles, 10% for audio description and 5% signing for Tier 1 services, 4 years after the necessary legislation is passed. This would bring on-demand services inline with linear and mean that access to on-demand programming would be vastly improved for people with sensory loss.


1.5   RNID are calling on the Government to introduce the Media Bill to Parliament as soon as possible to ensure that there are no more significant delays to the legislation.


  1. Overview


2.1   RNID welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on the Pre-Legislative Scrutiny. Our short submission focuses on the on-demand accessibility requirements- with particular reference to the impact on people with hearing loss and people who are deaf. This relates to Schedule 7 of the Draft Bill, and the proposal to insert clauses 368HL through to 368HP into the 2003 Communications Act.


2.2   There are currently 12 million adults in the UK with a hearing loss, which is equivalent to 1 in 5 adults.[2] There are also an estimated 87,000 deaf British sign language (BSL) users.[3] In a recent survey RNID ran, we found that 9/10 people with hearing loss or who were deaf usually or always used subtitles when watching TV.[4]


2.3   We welcome the proposals to introduce binding quotas to on-demand services to provide subtitles, signed and audio described content.


2.4   We support the adoption of Ofcom’s recommendations for targets and the new obligations for Ofcom as set out by the draft bill.


2.5   Although we are disappointed that a further delay to the introduction to these targets may occur due to the secondary legislation to define Tier 1 services, we hope in the long term it will allow for more flexibility if new on-demand programme services launch.


  1. Are accessibility requirements for Video on Demand set at an appropriate level?

3.1   RNID believes that the proposed quotas for on-demand video services are set at a reasonable level.              


3.2   We hope that service providers see the quotas as a minimum, and that they will aim to exceed both the 80% of subtitling and 5% of signed content set out in the legislation. On linear content many of the larger broadcasters already exceed their quotas and audiences benefit from being able to access a wide variety of genres and programming.


3.3   A recent RNID survey found that 9/10 people with hearing loss or who were deaf usually or always used subtitles when watching TV. When subtitles are not available, 79.83% of respondents told us that they had to stop watching the programme.[5]


3.4   British Sign Language interpretation provides an important point of representation for deaf BSL users in the UK, and therefore although some providers may feel that a 5% target for signed content on large back catalogues is a burden, we believe that it is very reasonable. The BBC reported that 1.4m people watched the signed coverage of the coronation and 55,000 people watched ITV 3’s signed coverage, demonstrating that people value BSL content on TV.[6]


  1. Do the proposals in the draft Media Bill create any risks to UK’s desirability as a market for VoD content?


4.1   We do not believe there are any risks to the desirability of the UK as a VoD market.


4.2   Services such as Netflix already provide English subtitles on a very high proportion of their library, which shows that it is possible to meet the quotas without undue burden.


4.3   Additionally, linear broadcasters already manage to achieve the 80% quota for subtitles, and our audience members with hearing loss tell us they get frustrated when the same is not available on-demand.


  1. What should be the specific criteria for designating an on-demand programme service as Tier 1?


5.1   Audience size and benefit should be taken into account when designating Tier 1 services as recommended by Ofcom’s Further Statement on Making on-demand services accessible. Their recommendation was that services with over 200,000 monthly unique viewers on a given platform are considered Tier 1 unless they have other technical exemptions.[7]


5.2   Given the proposed long lead-in time to the quotas taking effect (4 years from the date of being designated a Tier 1 service), we believe that the criteria should not allow for services to fluctuate in and out of Tier 1 status and instead should ensure that the major on-demand services are consistently covered.


5.3   RNID hopes that during the scrutiny of the Bill the Government is able to set out a timetable for the passage of the secondary legislation necessary for the implementation of the Tier 1 system. We have been waiting for the necessary legislation to enact the regulations set out in the Digital Economy Act since 2017, and further delays will only prolong the barriers experienced by our audiences when accessing on-demand services.


  1. Is Ofcom able to deliver its new and updated obligations set out in the draft bill?


6.1   In regard to regulating the provision of on-demand access services, Ofcom has shown that it is well placed to oversee the quotas by already regulating linear access services.


6.2   Many broadcasters already respond to Ofcom’s Access Services report to demonstrate what they have achieved in terms of on-demand access service provision.


6.3   Additionally, Ofcom is also well placed to deliver a Code with exemptions following the consultations it has already carried out and the expertise it has in house.


  1. Is the draft bill flexible enough to address future developments in audience habits and new technology?


7.1   The powers granted to the Secretary of State will allow flexibility for designating Tier 1 services to ensure that there is continuity of which services are obligated to provide subtitles and signing. This is particularly important given the long lead-in time to provide the services as service providers have 4 years to reach the quotas after being named Tier 1 services. If Tier 1 services were solely decided based on one factor, there is a risk that they would fluctuate in and out of Tier 1 status and never be obliged to provide access services.


7.2   The current bill doesn’t allow for any flexibility for the designating of new access services on on-demand services that may become available to improve access for audiences with hearing loss or who are deaf.


7.3   We know that technology is available to enhance speech or turn down background music in on-demand programmes, which has the potential to improve access to television for people with hearing loss who do not want to use subtitles.


7.4   We believe that the current legislation could stifle the innovation of future access services by limiting the definition to subtilling, signing and audio description. Allowing the definition of access services to be expanded to new technologies will encourage innovation.



[1]Ofcom, Further Statement: Making on-demand services accessible, July 2021

[2] RNID,

[3] The British Deaf Association (based on extrapolated census data from 2011). There is no consensus on the total number of BSL users or deaf BSL users in the UK. There is enormous variation in the available estimates which makes it difficult to plan appropriate support and service provision.

[4] RNID survey, April 2023

[5] ibid

[6] Metro, ‘King Charles’ Coronation attracts enormous viewing figures as more than 18,000,000 tune in to watch’, 7 May 2023,

[7] Ofcom, ‘Further Statement: Making on-demand services accessible’, July 2021