Subtitles - where would the deaf be without them? Definitely not up with the latest soap operas, that's where. Jim Trelease, an American literacy expert even argues that subtitles help children learn to read. For over eights, watching TV with the sound off ensures they only understand by reading the onscreen text. For younger children, it helps word recognition by matching the text to sound. What a great opportunity to get reading in the back door for those TV addict children with iPads in their prams! They won't even realise they're learning on the sly. Michael Gove, what better excuse to ensure mandatory subtitles everywhere are rolled out?
The subtitles themselves are created via a stenographer, who types phonetically and uses voice recognition software for live broadcasts. Now, anyone who has attempted to get Apple's Siri function to understand you will know just how dodgy some of this 'software' can be. The recent London tube strike had a forlorn tradesman being interviewed by the BBC outside Marylebone station, stating that apparently, "I am an electrician and I need to do a gay's work" I do wonder if his customer was impressed at having their sexuality outed on TV. Perhaps he only does his wiring for the gay community? We'll NEVER KNOW. BBC, please follow this up. I want to know.
The BBC does seem to specialise in its welcomes. A personal favourite is the introduction of the 'arch bitch of Canterbury' Alright, he may not be everyone's cup of tea but that's a bit uncalled for! Let's not forget introducing the Chinese Year of the Horse as 'Year of the Whores'. Crikey! No wonder all those men are dancing in the broadcast. Now, it wouldn't be fair of me to just pick on the BBC. ITV, don't think you're getting off here. Let us not forget Dermot O'Leary on X Factor welcoming Joe McElderry as 'Josef Fritzl' the er, rather notorious kidnapper on stage. Now THAT would have made interesting Saturday night viewing! As for MTV, in the decency doghouse ever since allowing Miley to twerk all over our screens, tries to tone down its outrageous show The Valleys:
Is that what they say these days? I mustn't be as down with the kids as I used to be.
Now, it's all well and good to have a giggle when subtitles go wrong. But what if they're not there at all? The BBC is committed to subtitling 100% of its shows, but with the rise of on demand apps, deaf people are still getting left behind. iPlayer does well in having subtitles on their streaming, but you still can't download programmes to play later with subtitles. What if I want to watch in a plane or car where internet's not available? The ITV and four on demand apps don't even have them - you'll need to get off the iPad and open up the desktop site to see if you're lucky. Sky keep emailing me to rub my nose in it, going 'You don't seem to have used our mobile 'Sky Go' service!' Well, I'm sure its lovely, but it's about as useful to me as a chocolate teapot without the subtitles. Bit of an oversight?
iTunes, the internet behemoth, does offer subtitles, but the choice is poor, and only on about a quarter of the content. The DVDs themselves have subtitles, so why not online? Buck up! It also likes to do subtitles in American portions, ie: LARGE. For some reason, the Americans like their 'closed captions' IN CAPITALS AND SCROLLING CONTINOUSLY. It takes a bit of getting used to, but hey, they're there! iTunes, I'll give you a C+ for your efforts. Could do better.
Lovefilm now, is a different story - they're in the doghouse! An online petition with 13k signatures requesting subtitles from their on demand service, and availability of subtitles added to their DVD listings has been ignored. Both See Hear and Action on Hearing Loss have both contacted Lovefilm, with no response. Unbelievable! Compare this to their rivals Netflix who have committed to making all videos available with subtitles by 2014. That's how it's done, Lovefilm!
For the deaf, having no subtitles is like removing the sound files for the hearing. Who'd put up with that? With one in six of the UK population suffering from some form of hearing loss, this is 10 million people who need them. I've got a new business strategy for the TV corporations. Forget blowing your million pound advertising budgets! Just flick on that magical 'S' icon on all your screens, PCs and apps. Stand back. Watch viewing figures rocket! The simplest of actions will translate into the biggest of victories.
To sign the Lovefilm subtitle petition, click here: