High-quality readable, understandable, and timely captions are the desired end result of everyone involved in the world of broadcast captioning. TV networks, affiliates, and producers want the best quality captions for their programs. Captioning companies and the people who actually write the captions want the best possible product for their viewers. And the people who enjoy using captions and especially those who depend on captions for access to TV programs expect the best.
As the nationally recognized certifying body for court reporters, captioners, and CART providers, the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) saw a need to define the roles of all the parties involved in the distribution of captioning: the individual in a studio or at home creating the captions, the producers, TV distributors, cable companies, and the people who watch captioned TV. In October, 2010, 70 percent of all complaints to the Federal Communications Commission regarding captioning involve transmission errors.
In order to help define the roles and responsibilities of everyone in this community, NCRA developed the following best practices to which broadcast captioners, captioning companies, content creators, video programming distributors, and consumers of captioning services need to follow so the most accurate, understandable, and timely captions may be produced for the end user. These best practices cover specifically live, realtime captions, not captions created in the post-production phase of video production. Post-production captions are expected to be 100% accurate with no exceptions. For live realtime or near-realtime captions, 100% accuracy is not a reasonable expectation.
Caption companies — owners, managers, supervisors, trainers — provide oversight for the entire captioning organization which provides live realtime captioning for its clients. This level of management ensures captions are provided within a system that meets the needs of the client: access to the audio content of the television program.
Individual captioners are the talented people who instantly translate the spoken word into readable text in real time, with as few errors as possible. Captioners need to work as a team with the company that hires them and understand that individuals who watch the captions depend on that captioner for access to information that can be entertaining, informative, and sometimes even lifesaving.
Caption companies should:
- Ensure proper screening, training, and supervision of captioners by nationally certified supervisors.
- Encourage captioners to obtain and maintain national certification available through NCRA.
- Educate clients as to what is necessary to produce quality captions, including receiving preparation materials and technical requirements.
- Provide technical support to clients and captioners at all times.
- Have a system to confirm that captioners are in place and ready to caption their programs before the scheduled program is set to begin.
- Monitor caption quality to ensure that captions are understandable, factual, timely, and as accurate as possible.
- Conduct periodic quality reviews of an individual captioner’s quality, both in printouts and on-air, and maintain records of quality results.
- Regularly review discrepancy reports in order to correct issues and avoid future issues.
- Follow networks’ or stations’ instructions regarding caption placement and profanity policies.
- Alert clients immediately if a technical issue on their end needs to be addressed.
- Respond in a timely manner to issues raised by clients or viewers.
- Caption as timely, accurately, factually, and completely as possible.
- Conduct themselves in a professional manner with station and network contacts.
- Work to earn and maintain national certifications available through NCRA.
- Know the audience for whom they are captioning.
- Have a reliable high-speed Internet provider.
- Have at least two land lines and a cell phone.
- Do not use a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) line to transmit caption data.
- Prepare thoroughly for each program.
- Keep abreast of current events and sports news.
- Note the times a loss of captions occurs and report the loss in a discrepancy report.
- Complete discrepancy reports in a thorough and timely manner.
- Make every effort to stop captioning as soon as possible before a commercial break to ensure the commercial’s captions are visible from the start.
- Engage the command that allow captions to pass at commercials and at the conclusion of the program.
- Be sure that captions are passing on the following program at the conclusion of the program.
- Be cognizant of the profanity policy for each station or network. Make dictionary entries that prevent offensive words from inadvertently appearing in captions.
- Send files in a timely manner after programs, as required.
- Monitor captions so that they can immediately correct any errors and prevent similar errors from happening again.
- Take care in the selection of brief forms so as not to cause problematic mistranslates.
- Perform self-reviews and make appropriate dictionary entries.
- Perform regular dictionary maintenance.
- Know their equipment well and possess good troubleshooting skills.
- Keep captioning equipment and steno machines in good working order.
- Have redundant equipment in order to minimize downtime.
- Update equipment and software as needed.
Content creators: television networks and affiliates, independent producers, and production companies
Content creators have a story to tell, from the weather forecast for the next seven days, to the running of the Kentucky Derby, to the election of next president of the United States. And every viewer deserves the opportunity to learn that story, regardless of the viewer’s ability to hear.
The content creator’s role in the captioning process goes beyond simply hiring a captioning company to provide captions. The content creator’s duties do not end with checking off a box that says the captioner signed in, captions were created, and were then sent out for distribution. Transmission errors need to be addressed and fixed at any point in the transmission process.
Stations, networks, and independent producers (not all apply to independent producers) should:
- Provide caption compliance monitoring. The monitoring solution should provide an alarm to alert the station or network if that program fails compliance. The following are examples of possible solutions:
- Post contact information for captioning service provider(s) in master control.
- Contact the captioner if there is a caption loss when dealing with audio-only programming.
- At all times, have an engineer available who has experience with and can reset encoders. This specifically applies to local stations. This will allow stations that do experience technical issues with their captions to fix issues in a timely manner.
- Maintain a database of viewer-problem reports that track date, time of day, program title, and a description of viewer’s equipment, including set-top and receiver model numbers. This database would be used to help isolate problems to certain shows, geographical locations, end user equipment, etc. to help solve long-term captioning problems.
- Allow the captioner to conduct a connectivity test approximately 15 minutes before the program to ensure captions will appear at the top of the newscast. This especially applies to local or other stations that cannot be seen.
- Provide the captioner with a dedicated audio line with no delay and no other traffic or sound effects on it.
- For live sporting events, provide an audio line to the captioner with no or reduced crowd noise or sound effects.
- For programming that is captioned off air and scheduled to be rebroadcast with those captions, the audio should be set ahead of the video so as to minimize a delay in captions.
- Do not use telephone audio bridges that require pin codes for activation or that require a manual reset when switching captioners.
- To deliver caption data to caption encoders over phone lines:
- Only use plain old telephone service, or POTS, lines.
- Never use Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services or phone lines that run through a PBX telephone system.
- If using an Internet Protocol (IP) connection, be sure to retain a modem connection as a back-up.
- Work with captioners and caption companies to minimize caption delays for consumers.
- For televised meetings of government officials, ensure all speakers are adequately mic’d and speaking directly into the microphones.
- Provide access to preparation materials such as the show script and/or a chyron list, if possible, well enough in advance of the program to be useful. The captioner uses these materials to familiarize themselves with key names and subject matters that will be discussed during the program allowing for more accurate captions throughout the entirety of the program.
- This should include song lyrics when appropriate so that the captioner can be adequately prepared for live performances.
Video programming distributors
Video programming distributors deliver the material produced by the content creators to the viewers. Every step in the transmission process can lead to corruption of the caption signal. Every entity that handles the captioned video content needs to ensure that the captions are preserved for the end viewer.
Cable and satellite companies should:
- Treat captions as a necessary service for individuals who are deaf and hard-of-hearing and not just another feature in the cable and satellite package.
- Be vigilant regarding captions and ensure that captions are not stripped from any programming due to cable-system equipment or distribution methods.
- Monitor captions at the head end before the signal goes out to consumers.
- Train customer support staff how to troubleshoot caption problems and how to turn on caption decoders.
- Ensure that consumers with hearing loss can reach and will receive effective solutions from customer support.
- Help all customers, residential and commercial, turn on caption decoders.
- Work with captioners, captioning companies, and programming providers to minimize caption delays for all consumers of captioning services.
- Ensure technical problems are identified, addressed, and resolved as soon as possible.
Cable contracting authorities
In the distribution path from the captioner to the end viewer, many hands come in contact with the video signal. The cable contracting authorities, and other public oversight officials, act as the consumer watchdogs in this distribution process. If a cable customer and television viewer does not get the service needed for resolving captioning issues from the cable company, the local cable authority needs to be ready to act on behalf of the member of the public. An understanding of the entire captioning process is needed in order to help the cable customer resolve his or her service problems.
Cable contracting authorities should:
- Require cable companies to comply with FCC laws regarding captioning.
- Let local consumers know about consumer protection available through the cable contract.
- Learn about captioning laws and requirements in order to be able to assist local consumers with any caption problems.
- Reach out to local support groups for people with hearing loss to let them know about consumer protection available through the cable contracting authority.
- Have an employee dedicated to responding to complaints regarding captioning.
- Ensure that the contact information for consumers to file captioning complaints is easy to locate and the complaint process is easy to go through.
Consumer protection groups
The Americans with Disabilities Act established that disability rights are civil rights; civil rights related through captioning are currently only advanced through the complaint process. Hearing health organizations and their members – on the national, state, and local levels – hold the power to demand enforcement of national laws, such as the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Caption viewers have the power to make demands on the television system to expand and improve captioning, a power that is not available to captioners or caption companies.
In order to expand access and improve the quality of captioning on television programs, deaf/hard-of-hearing advocacy groups should:
- Educate the community of people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing about the FCC laws regarding captioning, especially in markets outside the top 25 markets.
- Educate the community of people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing about different types of captioning errors and issues to help viewers know how best to find a solution to the problems.
- Build relationships with local TV stations, such as through consumer advisory groups, so station personnel understand who needs this service, especially during emergency situations, and viewers know how to resolve caption problems.
- Inform viewers who are deaf or hard-of-hearing how to view captions and how to troubleshoot problems with captions.
- Educate the entire community — both viewers who are deaf or hard-of-hearing and viewers who are not deaf or hard of hearing — about different types of captioning errors and issues, such as the placement of the captions on the screen, so they know how to best file a captioning complaint. Some guidance can be found at http://transition.fcc.gov/cgb/dro/filing_a_closed_captioning_complaint.html