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Debunking Closed Captioning Myths


Three months ago I debuted into the Closed Captioning (CC) world when I started working with Aberdeen Captioning.

Needless to say, the many misconceptions and myths that I had about what CC is and how it works have now been completely debunked.

Below are the top five things I was surprised to learn:

1. It’s an FCC requirement

I used to think that it was optional and TV stations did it just out of concern for the deaf and hard of hearing, so I thought I might come across a TV show with CC and another without. It turns out that the FCC is quite serious about this and requires it in all broadcast TV programming. So with a few exceptions, all television programming we come across on a daily basis will have closed captions.

I was impressed to learn that over 31% of Americans uses closed captions. Although the FCC doesn’t have a minimum accuracy rate, Aberdeen Captioning guarantees at least 98% accuracy in its captioning, even up to 100% if the client so desires.

2. Actual people have to do it

I may sound a bit ignorant, but at first I thought the TV did it all by itself. That somehow, it used super-accurate speech recognition software, it was smart enough to organize the text in a clear way and to move captions around in order to clear lower third graphics while at the same time it would avoid covering the speaker’s mouth.

After all, we are in the 21st century right? I was completely wrong.

There are actual real-life, air-breathing persons behind each caption we see on our TVs. This isn’t something automated that is done through smart PCs; rather, skillful people need to be involved each step of the way. I’m impressed at how Aberdeen has gone above and beyond to tap into the best resources in the captioning business to get the most talented people to create captions because, at the end of the day, it’s people who create the captions, not machines.

3. Closed Captions can be produced in six languages

Spanish being my first language, I think this is pretty awesome. When factoring such obvious things as that hearing impairment doesn’t just affect English speakers and that the latest 2010 US Census shows that the Hispanic or Latino population has grown by 43% since the year 2000, it is clear how being able to caption in various languages increases the reach a program may have.

Currently, the six languages in which closed captions can be produced are: English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, and Dutch.  Of course, when we talk about subtitles, the range of languages expands to many more. It really isn’t surprising that Aberdeen’s multi-language division has taken off.

4. Most producers are still using tapes

This was probably the single most impressive thing to me. After all, the last time I saw a Beta tape I was about 10 years old.

But here I am, coming in to Aberdeen for my first day on the job, and the first thing I noticed is a wall full of Betas and a recording rack filled to the brim with recording decks. Can you believe that in the age of Apple, Android, Wi-Fi TVs and all sorts of “smart” things there are hundreds or even thousands of tapes being shipped around every day from producers to TV stations?

Well, until recently, there weren’t any digital file-delivery systems accessible to small outfits allowing them to transfer long-form content with captions in a reliable way. Aberdeen Captioning has solved this problem with a new AberFast digital file-delivery service that delivers files to stations in their play server specs and that are ready for broadcast.

5. It’s not easy

The number one thing I’ve discovered is that closed captioning is not easy. I’ve discovered that there are so many variables from client to client and from station to station, that to excel in this business you really need to know your product.

Aberdeen has really strived to put together a group of dedicated people who have become experts in this area and are committed to the Word. I’m happy to be part of such a talented team.

This blog was written by Rolando Betancourt, Operations Administrator for Aberdeen Captioning.