Channel 4 is on the verge of exceeding its self-imposed deadline for the restoration of access services across its network, six weeks after its playout servers were knocked out.
The broadcaster promised viewers and regulator Ofcom that it would restore services by mid-November. Subtitles reappeared on most platforms at the end of October, but audio description and in-vision signing services remain offline.
Of the subtitles that are being broadcast on satellite, most C4 channels are only carrying the older teletext subtitles. These are blockier and more difficult to follow compared to the newer style DVB subtitles. While Sky boxes can decode teletext subtitles, Freesat devices support DVB subtitles only. Currently, 4seven is the only Channel 4 service on Freesat with subtitles.
Audio Description, a service that is used by those with visual impairments, remains inactive across Channel 4’s services. Audio Description involves broadcasting a separate sound channel that includes a descriptive commentary of what is happening on-screen. The broadcaster has apologised for the ongoing loss of service.
The problems started when on 25th September, fire suppression systems at Red Bee Media were triggered. In doing so, hard disks containing programme files were destroyed. In October, Ofcom found Channel 4 did not have strong backup measures in place. Channel 5, which was also affected, was able to restore its services more quickly thanks to its backup arrangements.
Channel 4 said that the provision of audio description and in-vision signing is dependant on a new system. That system is undergoing tests before it can go live to the public.
Ofcom has already confirmed it will be launching a full investigation of the incident.