RNIB Media release

24th Feb 2009

Fawlty towers star agrees - let blind and partially sighted people enjoy twice as much TV

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Today (24 February 2009) the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) is urging broadcasters and the regulator Ofcom to let blind and partially sighted people enjoy twice as much television. RNIB is calling for an increase in the amount of audio description (AD) from 10 to 20 per cent of programme and congratulates one UK broadcaster - Sky - who has already committed to increasing AD levels across its channels.

Audio description (AD) is as essential for blind and partially sighted people as subtitles are for deaf and hard of hearing people. It is an additional commentary that describes on-screen action, body language and facial expressions between programme dialogue. Specifically produced for each programme, it allows people who have difficulties seeing the TV to hear what they can’t see, transforming the experience. Current Government targets require UK broadcasters to audio describe 10 per cent of their programmes within 10 years of being on air.

Andrew Sachs, star of Fawlty Towers, has lent his support to the RNIB campaign. He says: "So much of what made Fawlty Towers enjoyable was not what was said, but was the physical comedy and interplay between characters. Audio description lets someone with sight loss really enjoy and appreciate the programme. It is wonderful to have such a creative way of bringing programmes to life for blind and partially sighted people and I support the call for a 20 per cent target."

Lesley-Anne Alexander, Chief Executive of RNIB says: "We want the nation’s broadcasters to renew their commitment to people with sight problems by providing AD on 20 per cent of all programming and by improving the range of programmes featuring the service. Blind and partially sighted people should be able to chat with friends about their favourite drama or soap, as well as the latest documentary on the economy, but a shortage of audio described programmes often leaves them feeling unable to take part – left out of the national conversation.

"With an ageing population we must recognise this service will be important for a rapidly growing proportion of the population. In fact, everyday 100 people in the UK will begin to lose their sight. So, it’s great to hear that Sky is doing more to address the needs of their customers with sight problems and we look forward to hearing that other broadcasters will soon be doing the same."

Sky has already committed to increasing the amount of AD on its channels, announcing that from 1 March it will increase audio description programming to 34,000 hours in 2009, meeting RNIB’s current campaign target of 20 percent audio description for all of its channels, except Sky Sports*. This increase means that blind and partially sighted viewers can enjoy AD consistently on Sky’s most popular shows from ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘Futurama’ to ‘A Town Called Eureka’ and ‘Malcolm In The Middle’, alongside entire blockbuster series like ‘Lost’ and ‘24’. Responding to blind and partially sighted viewer’s demands to provide more AD for entertainment content, Sky Movies includes AD on its premieres, with recent hits including ‘There Will Be Blood’, ‘Bee Movie’ and ‘Dreamgirls’.

Jo Fox, Sky’s Deputy Director of The Bigger Picture says: "We are delighted to commit to the RNIB’s 20 per cent campaign. We passionately believe in offering our customers the best possible choice of entertainment and with that goes a dedication to ensure it is accessible to everyone. Our team of 80 highly trained accessibility experts take more than 4,000 calls a week from customers who use our services in this area, listening to their needs and helping us to drive constant customer-informed innovation of our accessibility services."

Jackie Cairns from Northampton is blind and an enthusiastic AD user. She says: "Audio description is an amazing service. I can now watch TV and fully understand what is happening on screen. I enjoy soaps like Coronation Street and with audio description I know I’m not missing out on things like a character creeping into the room or a telling facial expression! I can enjoy TV like everyone else and join in all those conversations about the latest shows – it’s made a huge difference. Even my son, who is sighted enjoys AD, particularly on ‘24’, as it adds an extra level of drama to the show for him.”


For further press information or to speak to a user of AD please contact RNIB Press Office on 020 7391 2223 or out of hours call 07968 482 812.

For information on Sky contact Will Brown, Freud Communications, on 020 3003 6471 or email will.brown@freud.com

Notes to editors:
*Sky is committed to maintaining and building its audio description levels for Sky Sports which are currently at 11.1 per cent, exceeding Ofcom’s 8 per cent target. Sky’s sports commentators are encouraged to describe the action as part of the standard programme content, which RNIB supports as this description will provide an appropriate level of service for blind and partially sighted people.

About RNIB
Every day another 100 people in the UK will start to lose their sight. There are around two million people in the UK with sight problems. RNIB is the leading charity working in the UK offering practical support, advice and information for anyone with sight difficulties. If you, or someone you know, has a sight problem RNIB can help. Call the RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 9999 or visit the RNIB website. 

About Sky
In November 1999 Sky was the first UK TV broadcaster to introduce audio description. Its current target quota of 8 per cent is set by the Government and covers 22 of its most popular channels, from Sky 1 right through to Sky Movies HD. Sky’s most popular shows, including 24 and Lost are enjoyed by a growing number of customers who choose the audio description service. In 2008, Sky provided 28,000 hours of audio description programming. From March 1st Sky’s target is to increase audio description programming to 34,000 hours meeting the RNIB’s campaign target of 20 per cent audio description for its channels except Sky Sports 1*. This channel currently has 11 per cent AD content, however sports commentators are encouraged to describe the action as part of the standard programme content.

Sky is committed to meeting and exceeding percentages set by Ofcom for subtitling and audio description programming. Sky programming includes 429,000 hours of subtitling and 34,000 hours of audio description.

Sky has a dedicated Accessibility Service team of 80 specially trained advisors who support a wide range of customer queries and needs. They answer over 4,000 calls a week, dealing with requests from customers with disabilities that require letters or bills in different formats such as Braille or large print, through to more vulnerable customers requiring assistance in the digital switchover process.

Listings for Sky programmes with subtitling, audio description and signing are available in Braille, large print, on CD, via email and online.

In 2007 Sky was the first broadcaster to introduce an accessible remote control designed for customers with visual or dexterity problems, which is offered free to customers. It was designed with the relevant charities and consumer representatives to deliver the best possible product.