How deaf viewers were let down by decision to use live subtitles on the Young Apprentice final

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.


  1. From the Young Apprentice series 1 website:

    “Lord Sugar decides the winner on the basis of the final task, the boardroom, and their overall performance throughout the series. He makes his decision on the day of the final boardroom. Because there is a gap between the shoot and transmission (to leave time for editing), there is a concern about keeping the secret of who has won during that time, so as not to spoil it for the viewers. In order to ensure that the secret is kept, two endings are filmed, and Lord Sugar doesn’t reveal his decision of who he has chosen to the finalists and the production team until the day before transmission of the final programme.”

    Presumably the winner changes the editing of the whole show (to be more flattering or create sense of jeopardy perhaps), not just the final scene. Now, arguably they could and should just make two edits of the final show in advance rather than editting the show at the last minute. No secret at risk. The only issue may be that the costs of making and subtitling two edits outweighs the benefits to the overall audience. Although it is broadcast by the BBC, the actual programme is made by a private production company.

    Of course not all “pre-recorded” programmes are available in advance. Top Gear is my bugbear but the problem they face is that they record the studio segments on the Wednesday and then spend the rest of the week editing it to perfection right up until the last minute meaning it is effectively broadcast as “live”.

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