October 23, 2015 By Adam Grover
The Dangers of Poorly Captioned Broadcasts
Sometimes You Get Exactly What You Pay For, Volume I
The FCC averages around 500 closed captioning quality complaints per year. Imagine the level of frustration felt by the hearing impaired person that actually takes the time to register a complaint.
When you consider that the majority of Americans can’t seem to find the time to vote – the fact that someone would take the time to complain to a government agency shows the level of angst they must be feeling.
Whose fault is it that some closed captioning is so terrible that not only conversational context is lost – but also the thread of dialogue itself?
Responsibility lies with the closed captioning company of course.
The National Center for Accessible Media (WGBH/NCAM) has reported that competition from captioning companies in the marketplace has forced prices down and quality had declined precipitously as a result. They call these issues “pervasive.” Their report, in fact, said that the marketplace has not provided effective incentives for captioning companies to provide good quality closed captioning.
Captioning has become, in effect, not a service but a commodity.
In Europe it is customary to go for the middle bid on a service because savvy business owners know the lowest bid cuts quality. But in the United States, many companies view captioning as an afterthought; a government hoop they must jump through before they can get their movie or TV show broadcast to the masses. So they look for the vendors that substitute human quality controls for computer voice recognition, or they select the vendor that charges $1 per minute – and then they’re unhappy with the end result.
CaptionLabs had adopted the following quality metrics for accuracy in our closed captioning service:
- Captioned words must follow the order spoken.
- Words must be properly spelled, including homophones.
- Sentences must contain appropriate punctuation and capitalization to reflect the conversational flow.
- The proper tense must be used.
- Accurate currency and numbers must be represented.
- No paraphrasing should be used.
- Captions should never cover other important information on the screen.
- Captions should indicate the speaker’s emotions and intonation (e.g. yelling, whispering, crying).
- Slang and utterances (“um) should be included.
- Nonverbal sounds like music, gunfire, or audience applause should be captioned so that it appears and ends in sync with the sound.
- For offline captioning, the audio should exactly sync with the caption.
Do you really want to be one of the 500 organizations the FCC singles out every year as having a poorly captioned broadcast? Requiring your captioning vendor to adopt these quality benchmarks will ensure you stay legal and keep your customers—all of your customers — happy.
CaptionLabs doesn’t want to be the cheapest captioning company on the planet. Providing accurate, appropriately synchronized captions, human quality controls, and terrific customer service is our mission. The issue of media accessibility is too important to cut corners. The deaf and hard of hearing deserve nothing less than our very best work every single day.
Adam Grover is the CEO of CaptionLabs. While he’s no Donald Trump (he has much better hair), he has founded four new businesses over the past 15 years—and they’re all still going strong. While Adam is a visionary entrepreneur, he also understands the importance of client partnerships. He’s particularly proud our our retention rate—which is near 100%. His personal goal is to grow his companies—but not too much. Adam still makes himself available to our customers whenever they call. That one-on-one approach, which we call our “Midwest Attitude” is what sets us apart.