Closed Captioning – A Throwback

Closed Captioning

Closed captioning is the complete textual interpretation of audio portions of visuals, which may also contain a description of non-speech elements.

“Caption Center” is the first formal captioning agency in the US that began operating from the Boston Public Television Station, WGBH, back in 1972 on an experimental basis. Their first assignment was to provide captions or narration for one of the most popular cookery shows of those times, “The French Chef” hosted by Julia Chad, which was an award-winning series. With captions showing up on television screens, viewers found it very helpful as they could follow the recipes quite easily. The idea of captioning gained immense popularity among hearing impaired also as they could interpret the complete program without any difficulty.

However, some viewers felt that captions appearing on their screens were quite disturbing and distracts them from concentrating on the visuals. To address this, Caption Center with its partners developed a technology that displays captions only if a device is attached to a television. The device was a decoder that was fit onto television-sets to enable the narration or transcripts to appear towards the bottom of the screen. This decoder system was called “Closed Captioning.”

As the idea of closed captioning became more popular among the deaf and hard of hearing, Department of Health, Education and Welfare funded for further experiments on this front. Later in 1979, a nonprofit organization called National Captioning Institute was formed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). This institute was responsible for promoting and providing access to closed captioning. In 1980, NBC and ABC broadcasted closed-captioned programs for the first time.

Over the years, Closed Captioning has evolved and nowadays we have captions running on almost all the broadcasted programs. Captioning agencies have become successful in providing automated captioning service, which can be streamed onto live programs.

Recently FCC passed a regulation making it compulsory for the broadcasters to have almost all their programs closed-captioned. However, up to a delay of 12 hours is permitted in posting a captioned clip after the program is screened on television. For clips of near-live programs, delay of 8 hours is permitted in posting a captioned clip after the program is aired.

Though there are a number of captioning companies operating in the market, only a few are successful in providing FCC compliant service as caption synchronization is also a criterion that FCC wants the captioning companies to follow. Digital Nirvana (DN) is notably one of the leading companies that currently operate in this area. DN also provides automated multilingual captioning services together with accurate caption synchronization.

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