Channel 4 facing Ofcom probe over subtitles outage

The media watchdog said it ‘remains very concerned’ about the technical incident which led to the issues.

Channel 4's London HQ
Channel 4's London HQ

Ofcom is to investigate Channel 4 after an extended outage of its subtitle services last year.

The broadcaster experienced a number of major problems from September, caused by issues at the centre which handles its playout services.

Its subtitling, signing and audio descriptions were among those affected – prompting the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) to call for regulatory action to be taken.

Ofcom said Channel 4 had fallen short of its subtitling quota on Freesat, a subscription-free satellite TV service offering more than 170 TV and radio channels.

A statement from the media watchdog said: “We have found that Channel 4 managed to meet the statutory requirement to subtitle 90% of its programme hours over 2021 on most programmes. It also met its requirements for audio description and signing.

“However, Channel 4 fell short of its subtitling quota on Freesat, a satellite TV platform used by around two million UK homes.”

The issues arose in September after a fire suppression system was triggered at the broadcast centre of Red Bee Media, severely damaging a large number of hard disks in a variety of systems.

The “extended outage” of Channel 4’s broadcast channels was not fully resolved until November 19.

Ofcom “remains very concerned” about the incident, which it said resulted in a “lengthy outage to Channel 4’s access services provision and also wider disruption to its general broadcasts on all platforms”.

It added: “So, as well as investigating Channel 4, Ofcom is undertaking a review of the transmission arrangements and back-up facilities the affected broadcasters had in place at the time of the outage, and what changes they have made or planned as a result.”

It said the broadcaster’s “access services” are relied on “by millions, including deaf, hard-of-hearing, blind and partially-sighted people, to watch and listen to television”.

The broadcasting watchdog had previously criticised Channel 4 for not having “strong back-up measures”.

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