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Avoid the Pain of Closed Captioning

Avoid being overcharged, paying high shipping costs, and accepting long turnaround times.

Let's face it: No matter how much you understand the "good" in closed captioning, it can be a downright pain.  For producers, TV stations, or editors, captioning can mean an unexpected expense or a hold-up in production time.   Shipping costs are usually not considered in the budget and depending on how many stations your program airs on, shipping can add up.  Adding in the time for captioning is another thing typically not considered.  Although this shouldn't be the norm, I have heard stories of some captioning companies taking up to three weeks to return a closed caption master--which in the world of production doesn't fly. All in all, in your heart, you know captioning is serving the greater good of society, but here I will explain how to make the closed-captioning process not such a pain!

Captioning Pain Solution #1: Get a Good Price

Getting a good price, starts with being informed on what is too much to pay.  You should never pay more than $350 for 30 minutes of post-production roll-up captions.  You should never pay more than $450 for 30 minutes of post-production pop-on captioning.  Within these prices there are different variables that can be negotiated to get lower prices, but these prices should be the maximum and should include one closed-caption master (HD tape stock may raise this price) or closed-caption files.   Live captioning prices vary, but you shouldn't pay any more than $105 for a 30-minute live broadcast.  Getting a good price, doesn't necessarily equate to getting the lowest price.  Not all services are the same.  Make sure your closed-captioning service provider gives you excellent service with a quality product and that they have explained exactly what you will be getting for the price you are paying. A captioning company who pays experienced, trained professionals (transcribers, caption editors, real-time captioners, et cetera) and is not outsourcing their services to non-native English speakers overseas, will not have the lowest price, but they should still be able to give you a fair price that matches your budget. 

Captioning Pain Solution #2: Avoid High Shipping Costs

Shipping is a hidden cost in captioning that can bite you if not considered. The best way to avoid shipping costs is to choose a tapeless captioning method where you ship your tapes to their location directly or upload your video directly to the stations' play-servers. If tapeless captioning ends up not being the best solution for you, you can still ensure that you are getting the best shipping rates. Your closed-captioning company may have a discount rate with FedEx or UPS based upon the amount of shipping they do, so you should be only paying for the actual cost the captioning company is paying plus a minimal shipping and handling fee per package (around $2.00). Be sure to ask them if they have special rates with their shipping provider and if they are going to pass on the discount to you as well.  Some companies may try to make extra money through the shipping, so be upfront about this in the negotiation stage.

Captioning Pain Solution #3: Avoid Accepting Long Turnaround Times

Just like getting a good price, understanding turnaround times for closed captioning is important to avoid long turnaround times.  Closed captioning does not happen magically, therefore, in the case of prerecorded programming, it takes the time of coordination, transcribing the audio word-for-word, editing the words to captioning format, positioning the captions, timing the captions, and quality checking the entire captioning project.  For a 30-minute program, this process done well can take anywhere from six hours up to 12 hours.  Then your project needs to be scheduled in with the rest of the captioning production.  From the day your program arrives, the closed-captioning company should be able to turn it around if needed in 48 hours.  If they have to they can do it in 24 hours if they are advised that it is coming ahead of time. Without notice, in an emergency situation, they can caption it same day if needed, but doing it a live-to-tape style with real-time captioning.  Comfortably, most captioning companies would like three to five business days to turn around your captioning project.  If they are taking longer or say they need more time, it is because they have more work than they can handle.  Before signing a contract with a closed-captioning company, confirm the guaranteed turnaround time ahead, as well as any rush fees they charge, if any, for doing it under that time. 

Why These Solutions Will Make Your Pain Disappear

Knowing how much is too much to pay, will let you know if you need to look somewhere else for your closed-captioning services.  Getting a fair price with closed captioning will help lighten your budget for other important costs you need for your production, ultimately helping your bottom line.  Understanding how shipping costs work and how much you will pay per program in shipping up front will eliminate any unexpected costs that were not originally included in your production budget. Ensuring that you are working with a closed-captioning company that will meet your deadlines by not abusing your agreed upon turnaround time will eradicate lost airtime and many other problems that go with it.


Captioning doesn't have to be a pain.  You may find captioning to be one more thorn in your side because of costs and interruptions in your production schedule, but if things are dealt with the right way from the beginning with the appropriate closed-captioning partner, you may find that captions can be actually a pleasure.  Meet with a fair captioning company and have the right questions to ask, so you can be sure that captioning your program not only helps the audience that it serves, but that it also helps your overall production.