Ofcom has issued guidance to broadcasters about disaster recovery plans, after it found Channel 4 breached the conditions of its broadcast licence following an extended outage of its subtitling, signing and audio description services. Ofcom received around 500 complaints.

In September 2021, an incident at a West London broadcast centre caused significant disruption to several broadcasters’ operations, including their access services. Channel 4 was the worst affected, with an extended outage of its access services on its broadcast channels from 25 September 2021, which was not fully resolved until 19 November 2021.

Due to the prolonged outage, the Channel 4 service fell short of the statutory requirement to subtitle 90% of its programme hours over 2021 on the Freesat service (although it met its requirement on other services). Ofcom also found that Channel 4 failed to effectively communicate with affected audiences about the availability of access services in the weeks following the incident.  This amounted to two breaches of its licence conditions.

Channel 4 must now report to Ofcom by the end of 2022 on the steps it has taken to ensure greater resilience of its access services, as well as how it is continuing to improve the accessibility of its broadcast and on-demand programmes.

Ofcom has also published its broader review of the broadcast centre incident. It says that broadcasters must improve their disaster recovery plans and processes. Disaster recovery facilities must be specified to carry access services, as well as sound and vision, and be regularly tested under simulated emergency conditions. Technical infrastructure should also be regularly audited to identify any potential vulnerabilities. Staff at all points in the transmission chain must be properly trained to correctly follow the disaster recovery procedures.

Broadcasters must prepare effective communication plans in case of service interruptions. This includes considering the particular needs of the affected audience, and making use, as appropriate, of their own TV channels and not just social media to communicate with them.