Back in February, we blogged about the burgeoning amount of digital content, the apparent sluggishness to make it accessible, and how this has driven down the proportion of accessible content.

However, the digital players are starting to up their game. US-based film and TV streaming service Netflix recently announced it intends to subtitle (or “caption” in its native parlance) all of its content by 2014; it currently subtitles 82%. It also aims to speed up its subtitle production for new content to 30 days by 2014, and within seven days by 2016. While this is slower than the major UK broadcasters, it’s certainly moving in the right direction.

This side of the pond, major TV broadcasters all have licence obligations set by the UK regulator Ofcom, including accessibility targets for their output. Not only are these targets often pretty high, they’re usually exceeded.

Take the BBC – in 2011, their subtitling target was 100% for most of its channels; a target set voluntarily in 1999 and achieved in 2008. Likewise, Channel 4 and ITV1 all subtitled 100% of output, despite Ofcom only requiring up to 90%. Channel 4 voluntarily achieved their 100% target last year. Sky and UKTV currently have a 70% subtitle target, rising to 80% by 2014, and both comfortably met or exceeded those targets last year.

In addition to subtitling, the BBC, Channel 4 and Sky’s non-sport channels voluntarily increased the quota of Audio Description content to 20%. Channel 4 achieved this in 2011, and the BBC aim to by 2015. The main four BBC channels, ITV1, Channel 4, Five and S4C sign 5% of their output too.

Much of the willingness to increase access provision is down to the efforts of campaign groups such as DAC and the RNIB who seek to have content made available for deaf, blind and other audiences with special access requirements.

But with TV increasingly viewed across many platforms, it’s not just about accessing it – it’s about adding value, and with huge catalogues of digital content now being made accessible, it will allow some pretty impressive things.

Having full transcripts of content provides consumers with vast amount of metadata enabling much more sophisticated searching. You want to find cookery programmes with just recipes involving courgettes and white wine, with an Italian theme? Fine – it’s all in the text, and once it’s found all the programmes with those keywords, it can take you to the exact point they’re featured, and highlight related content.

Overall word patterns can be analysed to provide mood tagging; say you wanted to watch something upbeat and happy, searches would retrieve content containing keywords like “joy”, “energy” and “carnival” and their synonyms, and sort them by relevance.

Conversely, content providers can organise and archive their portfolio much more easily and efficiently with the same metadata, making it easier for consumers to find and navigate through, and more attractive to advertisers.

Will access regulation spread to digital media? And how else could digital content be augmented with access metadata? Let me know in the comments below.

Benn Cordrey, Subtitler