Subtitling…. I have questions.

Just been reading the (excellent) Pesky People piece on Doctor Who not having subtitles, or at least not having them turn up at the same time as the broadcast. Worth reading at length but the short summary is:

So imagine my outrage when last year, the Doctor Who Christmas Special, ‘The Snowmen’ wasn’t subtitled on iPlayer. I missed the original broadcast as I was staying with friends and their TV signal was buggered. I tried threatening them, but it didn’t work. I had my heart set on watching the special on iPlayer that night, and I wasn’t prepared to listen to any excuses about the wifi and how long it would take to download; in the end, it took over three hours. Very kind of them to invite me over and everything. Love you, guys.

It wasn’t subtitled. It wasn’t bleeding subtitled!


Eventually, after four long days, the BBC deigned to subtitle the Christmas Special of one of their most popular shows of all time.

Something that’s always annoyed me about accessibility issues, is that some of them are demonstrably easy to fix. For example I accept that the London Underground is a massive and very old piece of engineering and design, and is going to a significant effort before it’s properly wheelchair accessible – I get that. But I don’t understand how subtitles are hard for a pre-recorded program. In fact, let me take that back a bit, I understand that the timing and the summerisation is a skill, but I don’t understand how it takes more more than say a day for a suitably trained person to drop them in. Anyone?

My contact with deaf/Deaf people is actually fairly limited (Although, my brother does use a sign for ‘Dalek’, I suspect it’s not the offical BSL one) so I’ve got a couple of questions for people, any responses welcome…

  • Is it the case that programs are subtitled when broadcast but then not on the iplayer?
  • Is it regularly the case that programs wait days for subtitles?
  • is there a subtitle fetching API? (one for coders, that one)
  • Live-broadcasts are obviously hard, no question – are the ‘quick’ subtitles at the time worth watching? *and* do the subtitles get better if you watch a (formerly) live event on iPlayer later?
  • How do the terrestrial channels compare? Is ITV/Sky any better?

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