Captions on the Web
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Videos posted on the Web reach a global audience. But often a large portion of that audience is excluded from the full experience because they can't hear the audio and the videos don't have captions.
That's starting to change for the 36 million Americans with varying levels of hearing loss, according to estimates by the Hearing Loss Association of America.
Legislation requiring TV broadcasters to provide captions for its online programming is headed for approval when Congress returns from recess this month.
"There are those within the industry who recognize the inherent value [of providing captions online] and they've found a cost-effective way of putting it out there," said Pat Prozzi, president of the video captioning service VITAC, based in Canonsburg. "[But] there are a group of program providers that see it less as a benefit and more of a cost.
"It gets to the heart of one of the issues in our industry," Ms. Prozzi said. "Captions provide a really amazing service for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. It's an amazing service for those who want to understand more clearly what the video is saying."
Web video sites such as YouTube already are moving to include captions to assist those with hearing problems, although most of what has been posted on the video-sharing site since it launched in 2005 remains without them.
Although closed captioning was introduced to TV programming in the 1970s and '80s, captioning for TV programs posted on the Web is hit-and-miss. It's becoming a key issue for broadcasters as more and more of their programming is cross-posted on the Internet.
VITAC is among captioning vendors that are working to get more subtitles on the Web. The company, which also has offices in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., provides captioning for a number of network and cable channels, including BBC America, BET, CBS, NBC, CNN, C-SPAN, Discovery Networks, FOX, FSN, MSNBC, PBS and Turner Broadcasting. VITAC does the captioning for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) YouTube videos.
During the World Cup soccer tournament, VITAC provided two sets of captions live as the action unfolded -- one for the live broadcast and one for the ESPN.com stream.
NBC's "Today Show" began adding captions to its online version in June. VITAC provides the TV broadcast captioning, and NBC adds them to the online version.
As more and more TV programming migrates to the Internet, some viewers are cutting the cable connection and watching shows online.
Leaving the hard of hearing behind in this trend isn't an option, Ms. Prozzi said. "I really want to underscore how important it is for the captioning portion to follow, because of that percentage of the population that's deaf or hard of hearing."
In 1990, Congress voted to require closed caption technology on all TV sets. By 1996, it required networks to provide captions for most TV programming.
That mandate is now extending to Web video. Both the Senate and House versions of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 require networks to provide captions for the online versions of their closed-captioned TV shows.
They also require devices with video capability -- including mobile handhelds -- to be able to display captions. The bills also call for other ways to make media more accessible to both the sight- and hearing-impaired.
The Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology calls the legislation "a monumental step forward in accessible technology."
The Accessibility Act's passage would give the FCC the authority to establish the rules requiring online video captioning.
YouTube is moving ahead of the curve, offering easy ways for users to provide captions themselves or to connect with companies that will do it for them. Videos with captions have a "CC" icon in the bottom right hand corner, which viewers can click on to get the caption feed.
YouTube launched a "YouTube ready" designation for companies that provide closed captioning services, identifying companies that are qualified to provide the service for YouTube video producers.
VITAC is one of a dozen qualified captioning services working with the "YouTube ready" program. VITAC charges $7.50 per minute, with a $75 minimum order for captioning YouTube videos. Transcriptions are $5 per minute, with a $50 minimum order.
Ms. Prozzi is seeing a lot of interest from government agencies and corporations who use YouTube videos as a communications tool, and who want to expand their reach to hearing-impaired viewers.
Web video producers and creators stand to benefit from captioning, too. They can get increased exposure for their videos, because Internet search engines will pick up key words in the text.
The YouTube captioning system also opens up content to non-English speaking audiences. It uses Google Translate to provide real-time machine translation into other languages.
Consistently captioned Web video won't be a reality for a while, except for the producers who take it upon themselves to provide it.
"Things are happening, but for the floodgates to open, it really will take a little longer," Ms. Prozzi said.
on the web
Video how-tos for using Internet closed captioning at post-gazette.com/multimedia.
First Published September 2, 2010 9:34 am