Inclusive communication on our TV screens

By Jan Cerretti


‘I can’t hear you so I’ll just laugh and hope it wasn’t a question’. Over the last decade thoughts like this have been more and more in my life as my hearing loss deteriorates. Don’t get me wrong if I am sitting opposite you, with little background noise and can see your face I will hear you fine but if I can’t see your face, or I am in busy environments I will struggle. Funnily enough in noisy pubs I fair ok as the more people drink the louder, they generally become, enough said!! Another area where my hearing loss impacts on my life is watching my favourite TV shows.

This means I have become totally dependent on subtitles and I am very aware that not all advertisers use subtitles, which means they are potentially not communicating with an estimated 11 million people in the UK who have hearing loss. It’s not all bad news though, after a bit of research I have found out that 49 of the top 50 advertisers use subtitles as a matter of policy and of course the IPA are firmly behind the use of subtitles. Although there is still some work to be done.

I would always advise clients to consider adding subtitle to their ads. This is a straight forward option for linear TV as the viewer can choose to use them or not. However, for Broadcaster Video on Demand and Sky AdSmart at implementation stage the only options are to burn them into the ad which means they appear all the time (which could be annoying for people who don’t need them) or not to add them at all – catch-22 for brands.

Besides the ads and idents, subtitling for online campaigns are also commonplace, both as open (burnt-in) and closed captions (switch on/off) depending on the platform. Albeit from a low base a growing number of these advertisers are also audio describing their campaigns through adtext (both for broadcast and online) to make their ads fully accessible to the visually impaired.

Essentially more needs to be done to ensure brands are being inclusive. So, it’s fantastic to see Channel 4 continuing their great work supporting disabilities with their Audio Description campaign due to go live during the opening ceremony of the Paralympics. They have estimated that only 1% of ads delivered to Channel 4 are using Audio Described meaning companies are missing out on a potential £16b market in the UK.

In summary, I would love to see more brands using subtitles on linear campaigns and see broadcasters collaborating to make it possible for subtitles to be set up with a switch on/switch off option, giving viewers the choice and brands a better chance at effective communication to a wider audience.

See with your ears and hear with your eyes!!