How does captioning work?
To learn how captioning works, we recommend that you read the
Who watches closed captions?
An estimated 24 million Americans have enough of a hearing
loss that they cannot fully understand the meaning of a
television program. This is especially true of the elderly,
the fastest growing category of individuals who are deaf and
hard of hearing.
Captions enable viewers who are deaf and hard of hearing to
participate with family and friends in America's favorite
pastime: watching TV. Captions can also benefit adults and
children learning to read, as well as people learning English
as a second language.
What are closed captions?
Like subtitles, captions display spoken dialogue as printed
words on the television screen. Unlike subtitles, captions are
specifically designed for viewers who are deaf and hard of
hearing. Captions are carefully placed to identify speakers,
on- and offscreen sound effects, music, and laughter.
Closed captions are hidden as data within the television
signal, and they must be decoded in order to be displayed on
your TV screen. With either a set-top decoder or a
caption-ready TV set, you can switch captions on or off with
the touch of a button.
Where are caption-capable TV sets sold?
Sets with built-in decoders are available at all consumer
electronics stores. Set-top decoders, which hook up to your TV
set, cable converter, or VCR, are available through consumer
organizations, hearing-aid dispensers, and some consumer
How are captions produced?
Caption writers transcribe a program's entire script into a
computer using a software program. Caption writers time and
place captions, then add or adapt information to give viewers
a full sense of the events occurring onscreen. Finally, as the
last step in an intricate process that can take up to 30 hours
for a one-hour program, the captions are encoded as data into
the program's video, ready for broadcast or duplication.
How are live programs captioned?
Real-time captioning couples the skills of a court
stenographer with computer technology. Stenographers type
words as they are spoken, producing captions which are
broadcast simultaneously with the live program. Some local
news programs are using automated electronic newsroom systems
to caption, a less expensive though less comprehensive
alternative to stenocaptioning.
How do you know if a program is captioned?
A "CC" or "CC" within a television shape are symbols commonly
used in television listings to indicate that a program is
closed captioned. Another symbol, a small TV screen with a
small tail at the bottom, is also used to denote captioned
How much television programming is closed captioned?
From nightly newscasts to sitcoms, movies and game shows,
hundreds of hours of television programs are closed captioned
every week. Captioned programs air on CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS, Fox,
and independent stations as well as on many cable services. A
growing number of local newscasts and thousands of commercials
are captioned each year. Many home videos, DVDs, and music
videos are also accessible.
Why do captions sometimes appear with a program on one
channel, then disappear when the program is later broadcast on
a different channel?
A television program often has many lives. Unfortunately,
captions do not always make it through all of them. After
appearing on broadcast television, it is very possible that a
program will reappear on cable, in home video or syndication,
etc. Sometimes the program is exactly the same no matter where
it airs, but most often it is edited. Any edits require
The cost to edit or "reformat" captions is a fraction of the
original cost to caption. Often a new distributor of a program
is unaware that the program was originally captioned and
therefore may broadcast an uncaptioned version. The Media
Access Group at WGBH works with the production community to
ensure that the captions we produce follow a program through
its many lives.
Who pays for captioning?
Advertisers, producers, networks, cable services, the federal
government, foundations, corporations, and individuals all
participate in funding the cost of closed captioning.
Who decides which programs to caption?
Program producers, the commercial and cable networks, PBS,
home video companies, and syndicators are key decision makers
in determining which of their shows will be captioned.
Advertisers and corporations play an important role by their