ITVX's new sign language channel makes it a great streaming service for deaf viewers

Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black
Cilla is one of the shows confirmed to have a BSL accompaniment on the new channel. (Image credit: ITV)

In a world-first, ITV is launching a TV channel that'll exclusively provide content in British Sign Language (BSL). This will be launching on ITVX, the company's new streaming service.

This new BSL channel, which starts on December 8, will air plenty of existing shows with added sign-language accompaniment. ITV says that the channel will start by showing "Emmerdale and Coronation Street omnibus episodes, Cilla, Alan Carr’s Epic Gameshow, Vera, Lewis, and The Saint," though new content will be added over time.

ITVX launches officially on December 8, though it actually went live several weeks earlier. It's the new streaming home of ITV's content, replacing the ITV Hub, and will get ITV exclusives earlier than the online channels in some cases.

It's totally free to watch, and while you can subscribe to a Premium plan for all of BritBox's content, you don't need to do so to access the sign language channel.

Shows aired on the BSL channel won't be in BSL — presenters, contestants or actors won't actually be communicating in the language — but a figure on the side will translate from English to BSL.

ITV also announced its plans to expand its subtitle coverage. According to the company, 90% of its on-demand content will have subtitles, and 16 of the 20 channels it's starting with will have them too, with the remaining four (Freeview, YouView, Freesat and Chromecast) will get them in early 2023.

This news will be fantastic for deaf viewers, who may otherwise have a hard time finding shows or movies worth watching. Stats put the number of UK-based BSL users at around 150,000 (though not all are deaf), and now these users have another way of watching their TV.

ITV says that its creation of a BSL channel is a world first, and this is technically true, though it's worth pointing out that British Sign Language is mainly spoken only in Britain, and sign language channels exist for other deaf languages like American Sign Language (ASL).

There has long been debate about whether Ofcom should fund the creation of a sign-language-only channel, as this BBC article from 2014 discusses. This would have programming created especially for BSL, instead of existing shows with a translator at the side.

The new ITVX channel isn't that — it'll take English-language shows and add a BSL translator to what's being said. But possibly if it proves popular, more could come.

Tom Bedford
Streaming and Ecommerce Writer

Tom is the streaming and ecommerce writer at What to Watch, covering streaming services in the US and UK. His goal is to help you navigate the busy and confusing online video market, to help you find the TV, movies and sports that you're looking for without having to spend too much money.