The way we watch our favourite TV has changed. Many of us catch up on shows we’ve missed through apps like BBC iPlayer. And almost half of UK homes now pay for a streaming service like Netflix. But some are better than others at making their services accessible.

Ofcom requirements and on-demand video streaming

Most UK terrestrial channels are required by Ofcom to hit a minimum target of programmes broadcast with access services. “Access services” are accessibility features like closed captions, audio description and signing.

But this does not apply to on-demand video services like Netflix, NOW TV and Amazon Prime Video. It even excludes TV broadcasters’ own catch-up services.

About this guide

Different services offer different benefits for those with access needs. Use this guide to compare the most popular on-demand services and find out which ones best suit your access needs.

We look at video on-demand (‘catch-up’) services like BBC iPlayer as well as paid subscription services like Netflix. We compare their accessibility services for disabled people.

We have tried to consider a range of needs in our analysis. Our findings are based on:

  • Feedback from our Big Hack video streaming survey of more than 3,300 disabled people.
  • Web accessibility audit of each streaming service, in a computer web browser.

Please note, this is not a like-for-like comparison of services. We are giving an overview to help viewers with accessibility requirements.

Overview

Here’s a quick summary of what we found when looking at accessibility features and streaming services.

Best for overall percentage of subtitled content:

  1. Disney Plus
  2. BBC iPlayer
  3. All 4

Best for overall percentage of audio-described content

  1. Disney Plus
  2. All 4
  3. BBC iPlayer

Best for screen reader users

  1. Disney Plus
  2. BBC iPlayer

Best value for money (paid subscription services):

  • Netflix’s £5.99 per month basic package

Largest range of titles available at no extra cost:

  • Netflix

Free video on-demand streaming services

The following on-demand video services, also called catch-up TV, are free to UK TV license payers.

BBC iPlayer

Large offering includes nearly all live and non-live TV programmes, film, radio and music from BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Three, Four, CBeebies, BBC News, Parliament, Alba and S4C.

The BBC has a mixture of its own accessibility guidelines as well as accessibility features already integrated into products.

Gareth Ford Williams, Head of Accessibility at the BBC, says that iPlayer will be subtitling more of its audio-described content soon too, which should bring its subtitled content from 76.5% closer to 90%.

Price: Free service for all UK TV licence payers

TV highlights: Doctor Who, Killing Eve, Strictly Come Dancing, Fleabag, Our Girl

Content breakdown

BBC is one of the best services for accessible programmes. This is because it has its own accessibility guidelines and accessibility features already integrated into products.

100% of BBC iPlayer content is subtitled, 15.8% is audio-described.

Pie charts show how 100% of BBC iPlayers’s online video content is subtitled. 15.8% is Audio described.

Advantages

  • Website and app interface is simple to use and intuitive
  • Large range of original TV content
  • No adverts, only occasional adverts (for BBC iPlayer content)
  • 2,612 hours of BSL signed content available
  • FAQs help and support is available online for technical accessibility issues

Disadvantages

  • Users must pay for a valid UK TV license
  • Requires users to sign up and create an account
  • Most content is only available for 30 days after broadcast, though the BBC are trying to improve this.
  • Licensing agreements mean that some films may not be available either to watch live or on demand.
  • Sometimes rights agreements mean sporting events and films are only available for streaming (not downloading) on BBC iPlayer

Signed content available to watch on BBC iPlayer
Audio-described content available on BBC iPlayer
Supported devices for BBC iPlayer
What internet speed do I need for playing programmes on iPlayer?
BBC iPlayer help and support

ITV Hub

ITV Hub (previously ITV Player) is available through a range of devices. But there are limited access services (like audio description) available through third-party platforms.

ITV Hub only currently offers audio description through its Android and iOS apps. But they plan to make audio description available on browsers and connected TV platforms for 2021.

Price: Free version available. Otherwise £3.99 per month or £39.99 per year (with a seven-day free trial) to watch without adverts.

TV highlights: Britain’s Got Talent, Poirot, Gemma Collins: Diva Forever, Gordon, Gino and Fred: Road Trip

Content breakdown

95% of ITV Hub content is subtitled, 30% is audio-described.

Pie charts show how 95% of ITV Hub online video content is subtitled. 30% is Audio described.

Advantages

  • Large range of original TV content
  • Audio description category on iOS app

Disadvantages

  • Website and app interface is difficult for screen readers users and keyboard navigation. For example, there are no ‘Skip to Content’ links on the homepage screen.
  • Several examples of low colour contrast on the homepage, sign in and sign up pages in web browser, making it difficult for visually impaired users
  • Limited range of TV series available (less than 200 titles)
  • Currently no films are available through the service
  • All free on-demand content has adverts

All 4

All 4 has the highest percentage of subtitled and audio-described content of any other

Price: Free version available. Otherwise £3.99 per month (with a two-week free trial) to watch without advertisements.

TV highlights: Homeland, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, ER, The Trip, Friday Night Dinner

Content breakdown

In total, 96% of All 4 content is subtitled. Audio Description is available on Android Dash, iOS platforms and on C4.com where approximately 24% of content has audio description.

Signing is available on most platforms, but only 110 hours of signed programming are currently available through the service.

Pie charts show how 96% of All 4’s online video content is subtitled. 24% is Audio described.

Advantages

  • Large range of subtitled content available
  • Large range of original content available

Disadvantages

  • Text cannot be enlarged within a web browser, making it difficult for visually impaired users
  • Certain pop-up features are not accessible for screen reader users within a web browser
  • All free on-demand content has adverts

Supported devices for All 4

My5

My5 (previously called Demand 5) lets you catch up on Channel 5, 5* and 5USA programmes. You cannot stream live TV channels and all online video streaming has adverts.

Price: Free

TV highlights: Neighbours, Home & Away, Law and Order, Vikings, Catastrophe, Hell’s Kitchen

Content breakdown

60% of My5 content is subtitled. Only 8% of content audio-described.

Pie charts show how 60% of My5’s online video content is subtitled. Only 8% is Audio described.

Advantages

  • Audio-described content includes My5 favourites such as Neighbours and Home & Away.

Disadvantages

  • Limited amount of audio-described content
  • Website interface is inaccessible for screen reader users and keyboard navigation.
  • Text cannot be enlarged within web browser, making it difficult for visually impaired users
  • No longer supported by PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One
  • Limited range of TV and film titles available (less than 500 titles)
  • All on-demand content has adverts

Supported devices on My5

 

Paid video on-demand streaming services

These services vary in their pricing models. Some video streaming services allow you to watch anything from their library for a fixed monthly amount. Other services also have a rent or buy service which allows users to pay for individual TV programmes and films on top of their subscription package.

Netflix 

Netflix is the UK’s most popular on-demand video streaming service. If you want the streaming service with the most TV programmes and films available, Netflix is the winner. It’s known for its large library of licensed and original content.

Netflix guarantee that all its original TV series and films are subtitled (including titles like Orange is The New Black and House of Cards). But it’s unclear whether this applies to all third-party content across different platforms.

They announced they would start audio describing all their original content in 2015, though they could not come back to us with a percentage breakdown of audio-described content.

Price: Plans start from £5.99 a month and go up to £11.99 (No free trials available)
Available on: web browser on computer, tablet or smartphone.

TV highlights: Stranger Things, Orange is The New Black, The Crown and films like The Irishman.

Best for: large range of content, original TV series and films.

Content breakdown

Netflix tells us that 100% of its content is available with subtitles. They could not give us a breakdown of the percentage of audio-described content available.

Pie charts show how 100% of original Netflix video content is subtitled. The percentage of Audio described content is unknown.

Advantages

  • Largest range of popular TV and film titles available
  • Large amount of subtitled content, including 100% of original Netflix content
  • Audio description available on more than half of Netflix’s most-viewed content in the UK
  • Remembers user preference for subtitles and audio description (except on Kids titles)
    Large range of original TV and film content unavailable on other streaming services
  • Audio description category on iOS app
  • Standardised user interface across different platforms
  • Allows up to four people to stream at the same time using the same account
  • Most award-winning and critically acclaimed content
  • Offers streaming in 4K Ultra HD quality (if your internet speed is fast enough to support it)
  • Available across a wide range of devices
  • Large range of family-friendly content, with added parental controls

Disadvantages

  • The website interface can be difficult for screen reader users and those who rely on keyboard navigation, for example, there are no ‘Skip to Content’ links on the homepage screen.
  • Text cannot be enlarged within web browser, making it difficult for visually impaired users
  • Video and audio play automatically within web browser, which users can mute but not stop or pause
  • More expensive than other services
  • Requires fast internet speeds to stream in HD quality
  • Some programmes only available for a limited time before they are removed
  • Low colour contrast ratios between text and background make it hard for visually impaired users

Subtitled content available to watch on Netflix
Audio-described content available to watch on Netflix
How to turn on subtitles, captions and alternate audio on different devices

 

NOW TV

NOW TV is a video-on-demand provider owned by Sky. It includes content from several Sky channels. Pricing model is based on separate ‘passes’ a user can purchase to allow them to watch different kinds of content. All Sky originals go straight to NOW TV.

Price: Plans start from £3.99 to £11.99 a month (seven-day free trial available)
Content breakdown

Unknown (we’ve not received a response from NOW TV).

Best for: Film lovers who want blockbuster films and recent content from Sky and HBO

TV highlights: The Sopranos, Sex and the City, Dexter, Chernobyl, Westworld, Modern Family, The Handmaid’s Tale.

Advantages

  • Offers a seven-day free trial for their entertainment package
  • Large range of family-friendly content

Disadvantages

  • The website interface can be difficult for screen reader users and those who rely on keyboard navigation, for example, there are no ‘Skip to Content’ links on the homepage screen.
  • Text cannot be enlarged in the web browser
  • Many programmes are removed from the service a short while after original broadcast
  • Several instances of low colour contrast ratios between text and background make it hard for visually impaired users

Amazon Prime Video

Amazon introduced Prime Video to the UK in 2014, replacing video service LoveFilm. Amazon Prime video is free with any Amazon Prime subscription.

Prime video has one of the largest libraries of TV series and films of any other provider, but much of this is pay-per-view (PPV) content.

Price: Free with Amazon Prime subscription at £7.99 per month. (Seven-day free trial available)
Devices available on: Android, iOS, Windows, Roku, PlayStation, Xbox, Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV Stick, Apple TV, Smart TVs

Content breakdown

Unknown (we’ve not received a response from Amazon Prime Video).

TV highlights: The Man in the High Castle, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, Modern Family, The Walking Dead

Best for: Large range of film and TV titles, added subscription benefits

Advantages

  • Largest range of films compared to other services
  • Largest range of total titles available
  • Mobile users can set Data Saver option within the app to preserve mobile data
  • Subscription comes with added Amazon benefits like unlimited one-day delivery on products ordered from Amazon, access to Prime music and one free e-book each month through Audible.
  • Allows up to three people to stream at the same time using the same account
  • Supports up to 4K Ultra High Definition (UHD) streaming
  • Large range of family-friendly content

Disadvantages

  • Interface can be confusing for screen reader users and those who rely on keyboard navigation.
  • Text cannot be enlarged within web browser, making it difficult for visually impaired users
  • Website interface is cluttered and can be difficult to use
  • Some programmes and films are only available at an extra cost (Pay-per-view content)

Tip: Watching Amazon Prime Video on the mobile app uses slightly less data than watching the same video via the desktop app.

Audio-described content available on Amazon Prime Video

 

Disney Plus

Disney Plus is the newest streaming service in our line-up, launching in the UK in March 2020. Disney almost doubled their global subscriber numbers to 50 million, gaining more than 22 million new subscribers since the Covid-19 lockdown.

The service provides access to all of Disney’s classic animated movies as well as Star Wars, Pixar, Marvel and National Geographic content. 

Price: £5.99 a month or £59.99 a year. (Seven-day free trial available)

Best for: Subtitles, family-friendly content

TV and film highlights: The Mandalorian, The Simpsons, Toy Story 4, Pirates of the Caribbean

Content breakdown

Disney Plus is the only paid-for subscription service that initially came back to us with a breakdown of subtitled and audio-described content. An impressive 98% of Disney Plus content is subtitled and 28% of content is audio-described.

Pie charts show how 98% of Disney Plus online video content is subtitled. 28% is Audio described.

Advantages

  • Largest percentage of subtitled content of any provider
  • Largest percentage of audio-described content of any provider
  • Mobile and desktop interface is very easy to use
  • 4K ultra HD streaming available as part of basic package
  • Allows up to four people to stream at the same time using the same account
  • All family-friendly content 

Disadvantages

  • Smaller library of content compared to other services (less than 1000 titles in total)

Sky Go

Sky Go is an online streaming service that allows Sky customers access to channels from their TV package. The service is free for Sky TV subscribers, so as long as you’re an existing customer, you have access to it. There is a combination of live and on-demand content on offer, though not all live programmes are available through Sky Go.

Price: Free with Sky subscription. Sky Go Extra is free for two months, and then costs £5 per month after and allows users to download more content and watch on more devices.

TV highlights: Gangs of London, Westworld, Grey’s Anatomy, Dynamo Beyond Belief

Content breakdown: Unknown (we’ve not received a response from Amazon Prime Video).

Advantages

  • Free for Sky customers
  • Allows up to three people to stream at the same time using the same account

Disadvantages

  • Users can only download programmes to watch later if they sign up for a Sky Go Extra account, or have Sky Q.
  • Not all website content can be accessed using keyboard only
  • Poor screen reader accessibility, for example, the content does not follow a logical structure when tabbing through the menu.

Apple TV Plus

Apple’s answer to TV streaming launched in the UK in late 2019. Apple TV Plus lower monthly cost compared to other streaming services. But this is partly because of the smaller library of content users are able to choose from at the minute, with less than 50 titles available

Price: £4.99 a month (with seven-day free trial available) Users can get one year of Apple TVPlus free with the purchase of an apple device.
Available on: iOS, Samsung smart TVs, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, LG Smart TVs, computer web browser

Programme catalogue highlights: The Morning Show, Defending Jacob

Content breakdown

Unknown (we’ve not received a response from Apple TV Plus).

Advantages

  • Allows up to six people to stream at the same time using the same account
  • Great for original content

Disadvantages

  • Very few TV and film titles to choose from (under 50 titles)
  • Available on limited devices, most of which (Smart TVs and Apple devices) are expensive to purchase

Britbox

Launched in late 2019, Britbox’s unique selling point is British TV box sets. Including comedy, drama, documentary and reality TV. This service offers more British TV and film titles than any other streaming provider.

Despite being one of the newest streaming services on our list, Britbox performed poorly in our accessibility audit. Basic functionality, like making sure the website is accessible with a keyboard, is missing.

Price: £5.99 per month (with 30-day free trial)

TV highlights: Broadchurch, Wolf Hall, Blackadder, Only Fools and Horses, Downtown Abbey

Content breakdown

A total of 80% of Britbox content is subtitled. The percentage of audio-described content is unknown.

Pie charts show how 80% of Britbox video content is subtitled. The percentage of Audio described content is unknown.

Advantages

  • 30-day free trial available

Disadvantages

  • The website and app cannot be accessed using a keyboard only
  • Poor website and app accessibility for screen reader users, for example, the website has no ‘skip to content’ links. There is also no way for users to change their password within account settings.
  • Limited range of TV and film titles available (less than 500 titles in total)
  • Not available to stream through games consoles

The streaming service with the most content

Bar graph comparing how many film titles, TV titles, and total titles common on-demand video streaming services have available. Summary of findings under heading ‘the streaming service with the most content'.

Using data from JustWatch.com, Google Play has the most content available to download and watch with 24,050 titles. Amazon Prime Video closely follows with 21,317 titles available to rent. But both on-demand video services have a pay-per-view subscription model. This means while their library of content is bigger, not all titles are available with a basic subscription.

If we remove rental titles from the results, Netflix has the largest total number of film and TV titles available at no extra cost. NOW TV has the second largest library of content and Disney Plus has the third.

The exact number of titles available on each service changes daily. These figures give us an overview of library sizes, but may not reflect real-time catalogue size.

Notes

All video streaming services listed are accessible through a web browser except for Apple TV Plus.

Most services allow users to download film and TV programmes to watch offline. All services, unless otherwise mentioned, require users to sign up and create an account. We have tried to include a range of access needs in our analysis, but some services might not be inclusive of all needs.

Further links

Big Hack video streaming inclusive league table

Feedback from our Big Hack video streaming survey

Watching TV guide from Action on Hearing Loss

RNIB’s Technology guide to video streaming entertainment