Last night, my wife and I sat down ready to watch the final of BBC1’s Young Apprentice. Admittedly, the show’s a bit of a guilty pleasure for us, but after eight episodes and ten firings, we found ourselves rooting for our own candidates – I wanted James to win, she wanted Zara.
With kids in bed and hot cuppas in hand, we sat down at 9pm to watch the show, only to find, as the show began, that we wanted to deliver the “You’re fired” line to Lord Sugar and the BBC, instead.
All because the programme was transmitted with live subtitles. What this meant was that the lines of text we rely on to understand what’s being said in the show (since we’re both partially deaf) appeared on screen a good 5-10 seconds behind the dialogue.
Like the adult version of the show, Young Apprentice is quickly edited, full of one-liners and people speaking over one another, all in the name of producing pacy, dramatic telly.
So what deaf and hard of hearing people were watching throughout the final was, more often than not, subtitles appearing from the scene before the one we were watching. Here’s a video we made shortly after the start of the programme to show what it’s like:
What we should have been watching is pre-recorded subtitles, which are, (as the name suggests) prepared in advance, appearing on screen exactly in time with speech. Live subtitles meanwhile, are (also as the name suggests) usually used on live programmes, such as the news, sporting events, or live shows like the X-Factor.
They’re made as it happens, often through speech recognition, which is why they appear with a few seconds delay (and occasionally carry unfortunate willy-related mistakes).
They’re far from ideal, but (while they could be improved) on live shows there’s no alternative. What stings is when a show is clearly pre-recorded, as the Young Apprentice Final was, yet a decision is made for it to carry live subtitles.
On Twitter there were dozens of complaints. Ian Noon said “What about fair access to deaf young people?” Tyron Woolfe said ” Deaf People sick of this, live subtitling does not work, we are getting everything 20 seconds later…. its PATHETIC,” while Martine Monksfield said: “disappointing re. live subtitles on #youngapprentice which means deafies 10seconds behind = lost. Turned over!”
Pre-recorded subtitles need to be delivered to a subtitler in advance of the show being transmitted. So what’s the BBC’s excuse? Were last minute editing changes made to the show that stopped this happening? Or were they worried that by passing on a tape of the final to a subtitling company, the name of the winner might leak out?
The bigger question is whether, at any point in the process, anybody stopped to consider the effect further down the line on deaf members of the audience, which add up to one in six of the show’s potential viewers?
I’m so annoyed that I still don’t know who won. Did James come through? Or Zara? I’m sure I’ll find out eventually, but not in the way I was supposed to. The only bright spot was when I found out (thanks to Sally Reynolds) that the subtitles displayed ‘Lord Chugger’ at one point. Small consolation, but it brought a smile to my face.