Television captioning and audio description help people who have a hearing or vision impairment access television programs.

Captioning

The sound, including the dialogue, in a television program can be shown as text on the screen. This is called television captioning. Its uses include helping people who have a hearing impairment.

Captions include the spoken words as well as descriptions of sounds, laughter and music. When captions appear with speech, the colour of the text and where it is on the screen show who's speaking. If it doesn't matter, captions are usually white writing on a black backdrop. Captions are usually placed somewhere on the screen that won't interfere with the picture.

There are two types of captions:

  • Closed captions—can be seen only with a decoder, capable television or capable digital set-top box. This is because they are added to the television signal after the original program or movie was recorded. For television services in Australia, closed captioning is available on most televisions by clicking on the 'cc' button on the remote control or through the digital set-top box.
  • Open captions—can be seen on anything you can use to watch a television program or movie. This is because they are burned into the original print recording of a program.

Captions are created in different ways depending on the type of program.

Live captioning is used for news programs and other programs that are broadcast live or near-live. An operator creates live captions in real time so they usually appear on screen one word at a time with a delay of several seconds.

Pre-prepared captions are usually used for non-live programs such as dramas or films. An operator creates these captions in advance, checking for accuracy and timing before a program is broadcast. Pre-prepared captions usually appear one or two lines at a time with no delay.

The rules for captioning

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) regulates television captioning in Australia. Captions must comply with requirements set out in legislation, industry codes of practice and the Television Captioning Quality Standard.

Legislation

Free-to-air television broadcasters are required to caption all news and current affairs programs and any program screened on their primary or main channels between 6am to midnight, unless it's music-only or not in English.

Captioning requirements on subscription television channels vary according to the type of programming, which is divided into nine categories. Subscription television licensees have annual targets on the amount of programs that must be captioned. These targets vary depending on the category of the channel. Subscription television licensees may apply to the ACMA for particular services to be exempt.

There are also obligations on free-to-air and subscription television broadcasters to caption repeat programs. Free-to-air broadcasters are required to caption any program screened on their multichannels if that same program was previously screened with captions on any of their channels. Subscription broadcasters are also required to caption any program screened on one of their channels if the program was previously screened with captions on another channel provided by the same channel provider.

More information about captioning rules and compliance can be found on the ACMA's website.

Television Captioning Quality Standard

The Television Captioning Quality Standard requires broadcasters to ensure that captions are readable, comprehensive and accurate. More information about the Standard can be found on the ACMA's website.

Captioning regulation reform

In December 2015 the Department of Communications and the Arts released a consultation paper that discusses potential reforms to captioning regulation for broadcasting services. The consultation period is now closed. Submissions received are available on the Have your say page.

Complaints about captions

You can complain about television captions by:

  • Contacting the television broadcaster directly if it could just be a technical problem, such as captions dropping in and out.
  • Writing to the ABC and SBS directly if you have a problem with their captions. You have six weeks from when the program was broadcast. If they don't answer within 30 days, you can complain to the ACMA.
  • Contacting the ACMA with any other complaints about television captioning.

Audio description

Audio description is an extra soundtrack that explains what is happening on the screen, for example, describing movement or scenery. It aims to help people with a vision impairment and those with learning disabilities.

Between April 2015 and June 2016, the ABC conducted an Audio Description Trial on its television catch-up service, iview.

We have released the ABC's interim report and final report on the trial.

The ABC also trialed audio description on its ABC1 digital television service in 2012 and reported the results to the Australian Government.

The reports are listed below.

The Broadcasting Services Act 1992 does not require television broadcasters to provide audio description services.

Audio Description Working Group

The Australian Government formed an Audio Description Working Group to examine options for increasing the availability of audio description services in Australia. The Working Group comprised representatives from the broadcasting and streaming industries, audio description service providers and consumer representatives.

The Working Group provided a report to the Australian Government on its findings in December 2017. The Terms of Reference are available below.

Audio Description Working Group

Audio description

Published

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The Government has released the report of the Audio Description Working Group. The Government is grateful to the Working Group for its deliberations and is undertaking further policy work to determine the appropriate next steps.

Audio Description Working Group—final report

Published

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Australian audiences have more viewing opportunities than ever before, choosing from a range of services including free-to-air (FTA) television, subscription television (STV), catch-up television, streaming services, subscription video on demand (SVOD) and user generated video. Australia's FTA and STV broadcasters provide access to iconic cultural and sporting events, news, current affairs and entertainment, including Australian content. The sector plays an important role in reflecting and informing Australian cultural life.

Audio Description Trial Reports

Final Report on the Trial of Audio Description on ABC iview

Published

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This Final Report supplements the Interim Report delivered to the Department of Communications and the Arts (the Department) in November 2015. This Final Report should be read in conjunction with the Interim Report as well as the December 2012 Report into the ABC1 audio description trial (the first AD trial).