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Captions: Where Do We Go From Hear?

An estimated 31 million people are hard of hearing in the US alone. How many are at-home church-goers, struggling to understand your television program?
Closed captioning provides visual text to describe dialogue, background noise, and sound effects on television programming. It gives people who cannot hear, who are hard of hearing, or have difficulty understanding the spoken word the ability to understand the audio. Closed Captioning is important for those who need a visual reference (such as hymn lyrics) or as a replacement for the audio altogether. Closed captioning can be turned on or off by the viewer. “Open” captions are burned into the video and can’t be turned off. While it appears mostly on television sets, it can be utilized for any type of presentation. As of January 1, 2006 it is now a requirement for television broadcasters to provide 20 hours a day of closed captioned programming, including programs from churches.

Closed captions are hidden in the video signal, invisible without a special decoder. They are hidden in line 21 of the vertical blanking interval (VBI). As of July 1993, the Television Decoder Circuitry Act required all television sets with screens 13 inches or larger sold in the United States to have built-in decoder circuitry that allows viewers to display closed captions on their sets. In the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Congress required video program distributors (cable operators, broadcasters, and satellite distributors) to phase in closed captioning of their television programs. Viewers may select to watch closed captions through their remote controls or on-screen displays.

Closed caption information may be added to either or both the odd (field 1) and even (field 2) fields of the television signal. However, the primary language program related information appears in the odd fields. To ensure adequate caption performance wherever a usable picture can be obtained, a low instantaneous data rate of 503 kilobits/second (32H) was chosen. Data is preceded by a seven-cycle sine wave similar to color burst (called the “Clock Run-In”) and three “start bits” that are always “0”, “0”, and “1”.

Two bytes of data, using seven bits, odd parity format, are possible on a given line. The rise time is controlled (2T) and the amplitude of data and clock run-in is 50IRE units. Using only Line 21, Field 1, of the VBI, a delivery rate of about 3600 characters or 500 words per minute is theoretically possible. Tests conducted by PBS determined that the typical reading rate for captioning is about 125 words per minute.

Particularly with the availability of Field 2, the data delivery capacity (or “data bandwidth”) far exceeds the requirements of simple program related captioning in a single language. Therefore, the closed captioning system allows for additional “channels” of program related information to be included in the Line 21 data stream. In addition, multiple channels of non-program related information are possible.

Captioning is brought to the television screen through three basic steps: 1) data creation, 2) creation of programming commands that instruct the encoder and 3) creation of captions by the encoder. There are software-based solutions with a similar path but it creates the captions within a non-linear based editing system.

Data Creation
There are two ways in which a program is created: real-time (live) and offline (post-produced). Real time production transmits the video and closed captioning to the broadcast station as the event occurs. Data creation is done by typing the text into captioning software while the audio is played during the broadcast. It can also be captured via a teleprompter (generically in a news type of program) but this causes issues when the audio track deviates from the teleprompter script. The captions must reflect all of the audio within a live broadcast so procedures need to be included to caption the information outside the prompter script. If using a transcription service the caption artist can be onsite or offsite, depending on client need. While there are software solutions that utilize speech recognition the speed and reliability is oftentimes an issue, a good live transcription service should be able to provide 90% – 95% accuracy.

Post-production captioning is the process of transcribing a program’s dialog offline and placing the video into a new master tape with open captions, closed captions or subtitles. The data capture can be done in-house or outsourced to a caption artist. It is done after the program is recorded but before it airs. This additional time expands the number of options for caption presentation. Accuracy can be ensured because the script and actual audio can be reviewed against the text appearing on the video and corrections made prior to programming and encoding.

Caption Programming
During a live broadcast the caption artist uses the caption software to generate commands for the encoder. During the post-production process, after the script is loaded into captioning software and the text is formatted, the software will be used to add the desired closed caption control codes.

These codes determine the location at which the captions will appear on the screen, their color, and style (Pop-On, Paint-On, or Roll-Up). During post-production the videotape is played back and a time code reader is used to assign each caption to a particular time code in the program.

For both live production and post-production the text and caption programming are submitted to the encoder to combine captions with video for transmission to the broadcast station. The encoder can be part of the outsourced package, or it could be a piece of equipment owned by the studio. Once encoded the captioned video is sent to the broadcast station.

In a post-production process, the original master tape is played back with the video output feeding the closed caption encoder, and the time code from the master tape feeding the time code reader, producing the closed caption master videotape. When the incoming time code matches that of a particular caption, that caption is transmitted to the closed caption encoder. In this way, the captions can be matched to the video with frame accuracy. The closed caption encoder output is recorded to a new master tape with the added closed caption data on Line 21.

Outsourcing vs. In-house
Any or all of the captioning process can be outsourced, depending on a church’s available resources, timeline, type of program and in-house capabilities. While prices vary based on contracts vs. one-time events, generally the cost for outsourced live captioning can range from $115 – $250 per hour which includes data capture, programming and encoding. Roll-up captions are generally $5 – $13 per video minute. Roll-up captions display text rolling onto the screen from the bottom or top one line at a time. They are generally used for live programming. Pop-on captions or subtitles are generally $7 – $16 per video minute. They appear as a block of three lines on the screen in an area less likely to cover up any important images. Pop-on captions are most commonly used in post-production.

For a live broadcast a church could select to outsource the data capture and programming but do the encoding in-house prior to transmission to the broadcast station. Encoding equipment ranges from about $2,000 and up. A combination encoder/decoder gives the ability to decode transmissions for troubleshooting and error detection. The encoding equipment can be used for both live broadcast and offline post-production captioning. This gives more flexibility for the church to do in-house post production captioned videos.

Why Caption?
An obvious benefit of closed captioning is to allow everyone to have an equal opportunity to participate in and enjoy the benefits of a service, program or activity. Closed captioning is a way to expand communication not only to deaf people, but to many hard-of-hearing people (especially the elderly) and to people just learning English as a second language. Since the introduction of closed captioning in the late 1970’s, additional public venues have used closed captioning to allow viewers to understand video content in an atmosphere where sound may not be able to be heard well or at all.

The growing popularity of downloading television programs to personal devices such as iPods has caused some issues. The captions don’t appear on the small screens. In a recent Newsweek article the National Association of the Deaf called it a new version of an old slight. “We’re just shut out,” said Maria Herr of Chicago. iTunes is refunding the charges to those who complain that the captions aren’t available.

“The church is all about inclusion. Why would we even consider not providing access to our worship services and other programming for everyone? “ Kirk Longhofer, Director of Communications and Technology, First United Methodist Church, Wichita, KS. First United Methodist is a growing downtown congregation of 1,600 members with a strong commitment to the use of technology in a traditional worship form. They have been on television for 30 years with a live broadcast. Caption data capture and programming is outsourced while the encoder is owned and operated within the church studio. Phone lines carry the transmissions. The encoder was implemented as part of a major studio upgrade, although if done alone the implementation of an in-house captioning solution can take less than a day, depending on the complexity.

The Rules
In 1998 the FCC modified regulations which mandated captioning on virtually all television programming in the United States.

The ruling took effect on January 1st, 1998, and it phased in requirements separately for “old” and “new” programming.

1. All “new” (aired for the first time on or after 1/1/1998) video programming must be captioned by 1/1/2006.
3. For “old” programming (aired for the first time before 1/1/1998), 30% must be captioned by 1/1/2003, and 75% by 1/1/2008.
5. With Spanish-language programming, the deadline is 2010 for new programming and 2012 for old programming.
The FCC allowed a few exemptions to the rules. Closed captioning is not required for:

• Programs which are shown between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. local time

• Locally produced and distributed non-news programming with no repeat value (e.g., parades and school sports)

• Commercials that are no more than five minutes long

• Instructional programming that is locally produced by public television stations for use in grades K-12 and post secondary schools (only covers programming narrowly distributed to individual educational institutions)

• Programs in languages other than English or Spanish

• Programs shown on new networks for the first four years of the network’s operations

• Public service announcements under 10 minutes, unless they are federally-funded or produced

• Video programming providers with annual gross revenues under $3 million (although such programmers must pass through video programming that has already been captioned)

• In addition, a video programming provider or distributor may ask the FCC for an exemption for specific programming if supplying captions for that programming would result in an undue burden for the provider or distributor.
Of the current 56 petitions filed with the FCC for exemption from the closed captioning requirements, 33 are from churches. However, one petition has been denied and one has been withdrawn. Factors the FCC considers:

• The nature and cost of the closed captioning for the programming

• The impact on the operation of the provider or program owner

• The financial resources of the provider or program owner, including efforts to solicit captioning assistance from the distributors of its programming and the distributors’ responses

• The type of operations of the provider or program owner

• Any available alternatives that might constitute a reasonable substitute for the closed captioning requirements, including but not limited to, text or graphic display of the content of the audio portion of the programming
In general churches have not been successful in their petitions, for many reasons. Some may argue for time to implement a solution, others may argue that the increased cost will make their video ministry difficult to maintain. The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) is the nation’s oldest and largest nonprofit organization safeguarding the accessibility and civil rights of 28 million deaf and hard of hearing Americans across a broad range of areas including education, employment, health care, and telecommunications. Primary areas of focus include grassroots advocacy and empowerment, policy development and research, legal assistance, captioned media, information and publications, and youth leadership. One of their activities is to review petitions for exemption and offer comments to the FCC. As advocates for accessibility for people with hearing loss they have been critical of churches claiming an undue burden will be placed on them if forced to close caption.

Captioning affects a large part of the US population – whether the deaf, hard of hearing, or those learning English. Within the subset represented by a church’s congregation, traditionally a sizeable number of people are older, and may appreciate the effort shown by the church to caption. Others may wonder why a program is not captioned – why they are excluded from understanding.

Sites of interest:

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