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Last Updated: 02/01/2018

Article of Interest - Assistive Technology

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Closed Captioning FAQ

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How does captioning work?
To learn how captioning works, we recommend that you read the following articles:

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 electronics stores.

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 programs.

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 caption changes.

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 caption-funding decisions.


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