Broadcast Captioning 101

By: Danielle Chazen
Broadcast Captioning

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Closed captions were once considered only as an aid for individuals with disabilities. The ability to turn on the CC feature helped these select individuals consume media content effectively. Now, closed captions are both expected and used by a wide range of audiences.

Broadcast Captioning not only ensure that emergency alerts are effectively delivered to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing for example, but serve as a proven method to engage audiences and meet their unique needs for content consumption. Captions can prove to be especially helpful for live programming, such as news, sports and event coverage.

man in blue polo on a broadcast setup with cameraman on the side

What is broadcast captioning?

Broadcast captioning refers to the instant translation of the spoken word that is then encoded into a television signal or viewed on a monitor at a meeting or convention. Broadcast captioning makes video accessible and provides a time-to-text method to provide a substitute for the audio. Captions are designed to assume that the viewer cannot hear due to physical or spatial limitations.

Broadcast captions also include non-speech explanations, such as speaker identification and sound effects to help consumers watching to further understand what is occurring in the video. Captions are denoted by a CC icon within most video players.

The importance of broadcast captioning

Approximately 466 million individuals worldwide have disabling hearing loss, and 34 million of these are children. These numbers are only expected to grow, with estimates of hearing loss expected to affect 900 million people by 2050, according to WHO

It’s not only the right thing to do to provide an equitable means for individuals with disabilities to consume news and live programming, it’s required by law. Guidelines and rulings have been set by the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP), FCC (via FCC Caption Quality Standards) and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. These guidelines pertain to the accuracy, timing, completeness and placement of the captions themselves.

Many studies have shown that captions can serve as a learning device for children and adults seeking to improve their reading, as well as those consuming live media in a language which is not native to them. Broadcast captioning therefore works as an educational tool.

There are also many situations, such as commuting, where individuals rely on captions to consume video when they cannot play the volume out loud. Usability and the option to watch without sound are features that audiences depend on, making for happier consumers when they are provided these options whenever possible.
close up of camera showing a scene being captured

Types of broadcast captions

There are two main types of captioning for broadcasts – live and post-production. Live broadcasts require captions to be provided in real-time to keep viewers engaged as the broadcast is occurring. Delays in captions can create frustration for those who need closed caption television for example. It’s therefore important to utilize tools and services which are built for the fast-paced nature of media and live TV.

Post-production refers to the tasks media companies must complete after filming has ended. These include editing the raw footage, cutting segments, inserting transition effects and adding captions. Both captions, as well as transcripts, which serve as the written record of what was filmed, can be helpful for media production companies. These tools can be useful as they piece together their projects and look to provide audiences with accessible means to consume them. Items filmed to be broadcast at a later date therefore do not require live closed captioning services.

Broadcast captioning service options

There are many broadcast captioning companies on the market to provide video closed captioning and television captions. However, the guidelines mentioned above and a providers’ ability to meet them can serve as the deciding factor.

Some media broadcast companies choose to hire staff full-time to handle captions, work with freelancers or work with technology companies that can integrate with their current workflows and processes.

Selecting a provider with services that are tailor-made for media captioning is one place to start. For example, Verbit works with talk shows like The Dr. Oz Show, as well as reality TV producers, post production media companies and others. Verbit has aggregated feedback from these clients and use cases to customize its solution to meet the needs of broadcast media. Capabilities provided to Verbit’s media users include SMPTE timecodes, speaker identification, various spatial video formats and vertical captioning.

Additionally, ensuring accuracy of the captions offered can make or break the user experience and help prevent any potential lawsuits. Artificial Intelligence is therefore one tool you likely want your captioning solution to incorporate, as it can make all of the difference for broadcast captions.
camera in close up capturing a woman in front of it

Enlisting AI technology for captions

AI-based software is being used to fuel most broadcast transcription and captioning processes. The media industry is arguably held to the highest standards of accuracy and timeliness. The media must react quickly to timely, newsworthy events to remain competitive. Media professionals and organizations can utilize AI as their closed caption generator to maintain their credibility and deliver on the expectations of their audiences.

AI-based tools, including automatic speech recognition (ASR) technology, can help media professionals produce captions both quickly and accurately. The best broadcast captioning providers will be able to provide media clients with ASR technology to initially produce the captions quickly, but add a human layer to the work via professional fact checkers. Adding a human element ensures that the work of the ASR machine achieves the standard of 99% accuracy in the captions it produces.

AI-technologies also are built to adapt and get smarter with time. For example, one used for a specific show learns to pick up on nuances of the show’s host, their cadence, pronunciations of words and more to produce captions with greater accuracy each time it is used. Additionally, it can accurately identify speakers even if they sound similar, preventing human error that may occur by misjudging the individual speaking.

Media and broadcast professionals can only stand to benefit from using technology to remove manual processes, such as speaker identification, and make video more accessible to viewers. With the right process in place to provide captions, they can then place their focus on providing audiences with the credible news and top-notch entertainment they seek and feel content knowing that their audience has multiple methods to engage with the content they produce.