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Closed Captioning
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Closed Captioning Solutions

Q: What is closed captioning?

A: Closed captioning is an assistive technology designed to provide access to television for persons who are deaf and hard of hearing. It is similar to subtitles in that it displays the audio portion of a television signal as printed words on the television screen. Unlike subtitles, however, closed captioning is hidden as encoded data transmitted within the television signal, and provides information about background noise and sound effects. A viewer wishing to see closed captions must use a set-top decoder or a television with built-in decoder circuitry. Since July 1993, all television sets with screens thirteen inches or larger have had built-in decoder circuitry.

Q: Who is required to provide closed captions?

A: Federal rules require people or companies that distribute television programs directly to home viewers ("video program distributors") to make sure that those programs are captioned. Video program distributors include local broadcast television stations, satellite television services (such as DirecTV, Primestar, and the Dish Network), local cable television operators, and other companies that distribute video programming directly to the home. In some situations, video program providers will be responsible for captioning programs. A video program provider could be a television program network (for example, ABC, NBC, UPN, Lifetime, A&E) or other company that makes a particular television program.

Q: Once a program appears on television with captions, will it always be shown with captions?

A: In some cases, but not always. Repeats of captioned programs must be shown with the captions intact only if the program has not been edited before it is repeated. Editing a captioned program can destroy the captions, and captioned programs which are edited before re-airing often need to have the captions reformatted.

Q: What is "real-time" captioning?

A: "Real-time" captioning means any methodology that converts the entire audio portion of a live program to captions.

Real-time captions are white letters with a black background. They typically scroll up to three lines and the captions come after double chevrons (>>)  and the top line of the three lines disappears as a new bottom line is added, allowing the continuous rolling up of new lines of captions.

Q: When is real-time captioning used?

A: Real-time captioning can be used in situations such as lectures (presentations) and "live" telecasts.

  • For lectures/presentations, such as a training seminar, a corporate meeting, or "live" presentations, real-time captioning simultaneously converts the spoken word into printed format using computer-aided translation, which appears on a large screen for anyone to view. The letters are similar to what one types on a computer screen.
  • For "live" telecasts, such as the local news or where on-the-spot programming occurs, real-time captioning is used.

Q. What is the accuracy rate?

A. Stenocaptioners are capable of writing at speeds of up to 250 words per minute, or even faster in short bursts.

There is no governing body for captioners, so look for credentials assigned either by the state board overseeing court reporters, or by the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA). The skills and knowledge required for these credentials are similar to those required for captioning.

For "live" real-time captioning, most agencies insist that a qualified real-time captioner must have an accuracy rate of at least 98.6%, which is the standard set by the NCRA.

Q: What is the difference between real-time captioning and CART?

A: CART is an acronym for Computer-Aided Real-time Translation, and it refers to the use of machine steno shorthand skills to produce real-time text on a computer. CART encompasses use of straight text on computer screens (no video picture) projected on walls, or shown on large monitors.

CART consists of a reporter with a notebook computer and a steno keyboard, sitting next to a deaf or hard of hearing person. The CART reporter writes everything that happens, and the screen on the notebook computer is turned so that the deaf or hard of hearing person can read it. This differs from traditional court reporting in that the CART reporter is not just there to create a verbatim record, but to help the person understand the proceedings, which may mean paraphrasing, interpreting, and two-way communication.

Real-time captioning can be viewed as a subset of CART. For providing real-time at a live event, it is often easier to find CART reporters than to find captioners, since captioning requires more equipment (and more expensive equipment, as well).

Q: What is the electronic newsroom captioning technique?

A: The so-called electronic newsroom (ENR) captioning technique creates captions from a news script computer or teleprompter and is commonly used for live newscasts. Only material that is scripted can be captioned using this technique. Therefore, live field reports, breaking news, and sports and weather updates may not be captioned.

Q: How do video tapes become closed captioned?

A: Taking into consideration the time to make the dub of the original master tape for the captioner to work from, all the steps in between, and the time to encode the final master tape, a 1-hour videotape can take anywhere from 8 to 20 hours to caption. Here are the five steps involved in captioning:

  1. Transcript

An accurate transcript is essential for captioning. If a transcript does not exist, it must be created. Transcripts can be submitted in the following formats:

  1. Disk. A disk is usually the preferred format. It can be in any word processing application or an ASCII text file.
  2. Fax. A text file can be faxed directly to the computer.
  3. Printed Script. A printed script is useful if it can be scanned accurately. The scanner works best with clean, even-toned, typed scripts.
  4. Court reporter or stenocaptioner or typist. Must have a stop and start control on the VCR.
  1. Formatting

In the facility the script is then:

  1. divided into captions. The quantity of text is decided to be shown on the screen at a time. Where possible, the split is usually by sentences. This step can be at least partially automated, and can be combined with the prior steps.
  2. cleaned of extra columns.
  3. cleaned of extraneous text.
  4. checked for accuracy.

Usually text appears as two-line pop-up captions, however, some have the capacity to use from one to four lines in pop-up or roll-up fashion. Set the "look" of the captions. Add italics, underlining, colors, speaker identification, brackets around sound effects, music notes around song lyrics, and so forth. Some people do this as the script is entered, others go back and add it later.

3. Time Coding

    1. A worktape is made. The worktape includes the original time code. The formatted script along with the time code is then displayed on the computer.
    2. Time code matched. Matching time code is also called "scheduling."
    3. "Grabbed" time codes. "Absorbed" as the tape plays, using the computer keyboard. This is also where the captions may be moved up, down, left or right. Captions are determined where they will appear on the screen. Ensure that essential information is not covered by the captions, and that the positioning gives clues as to who is speaking.

4. Checking and Revision

    1. Viewing. The video and the captions are run together to show what will appear in the final captioned video.
    2. Checking and revision. The captions must always be carefully checked for errors before being recorded. Automated tools can perform spelling checks, reading-rate checks, and look for technical timing errors. Actually watch the video with the captions on it in order to catch errors such as captions covering graphics, speaker’s mouth, and others; or appearing too early or late.
    3. Crunching. A process called "crunching" fuses the time code to the captions. Any problems with conflicting time codes will cause the captions to move faster than the encoder will transmit and as a result, this may cause a gap, or incorrectly processed words.

5. Encoding

After the results of the completed captioning job are satisified, it is transferred to the videotape using a caption encoder.

The captioner works closely with an engineer to produce the finished captioned videotape. The captioning file is transmitted from the computer to an encoder, where the original video, timecode and new captions are recorded on the desired videotape format.

Q: How Do Closed Captions Work?

A: The captions are activated by a decoder connected to the TV or a built-in decoder chip to the TV. Either technology decodes the captioning signal and then captions appear on the screen.

Closed-captioned shows include prerecorded programs such as: feature productions, TV series, cartoons, and other programs. A step-by-step procedure lists this process of closed-captioning programs:

1. The TV network or home video company (feature productions) sends a copy of the program on videocassette to a captioning agency.

2. The captioner listens to the program dialogue.

3. The captioner then types in the captions, ensuring that the dialogue and captions are in synchronization.

4. A captioned disk is sent back to the TV network or home video company and is combined with the master tape, which results in a captioned submaster tape. This process is called encoding.

5. The TV set with the built-in decoder chip decodes (brings out) the captions on the TV screen.

Q: Do captions have to meet accuracy requirements, such as having only so many spelling errors per program?

A: At present, captions are not required to meet any particular quality or accuracy standards. The Federal Communications Commission concluded that program providers have incentives to offer high quality captions, in keeping with the overall quality of the programs they offer. The FCC also concluded that it would be difficult to develop and monitor quality standards at this time. However, viewers may let video providers know whether they are satisfied with the captions through purchases of advertised products, subscriptions to program services, or contacts with providers concerning the programs.

The above information has been excerpted from the FCC guidelines and the Captioned Media Program of the National Association of the Deaf.


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