As more and more video creators are embracing closed captioning and other related services, they are developing new methods to produce them. The deaf community and other interested parties have a growing concern that the services are not meeting acceptable standards and have recently met with the FCC to revisit the rules that are in place to oversee these services.
A little background
In an article in a recent issue of Broadcasting + Cable, one provider observed that interest in captioning by producers and advertisers has accelerated in the past two years. What was once a regulatory compliance issue is now becoming a way to enhance a brand. It has also been suggested that captioning is more popular now because of increased viewing in public venues due to a higher volume of post-pandemic traffic in such places as bars, restaurants, health clubs, and the like. One study found that 69% of people watched video in public places with the sound turned off.
A surprising statistic, according to that same study, found that 80% of viewers of closed captions on all platforms are not hearing impaired. It has long been known that captions help children learn as a visual reinforcement for the soundtrack, plus foreign-language speakers have used them to help them learn English. And, of course, there is the aforementioned viewing in public places.
Innovations in the field
With increased demand for closed captions and audio description, companies are developing new products to make the process easier. One option, Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) which converts speaking into text via artificial intelligence, has gained a lot of traction recently. This technology has limitations with people who speak with an accent or if there is too much background noise or when two or more people speak at the same time. Some captioners will use voice writing, also called “shadow speaking,” where a caption presenter repeats the words of the live speakers in a controlled environment, eliminating any excess sound, thus giving the ASR system a constant voice and accent. Still, others are using hybrid models with both caption stenographers and ASR.
Advocates for the hearing- and sight-impaired declare that with the advent of ASR, caption quality has declined. Earlier this year, several groups met with the FCC to express their concerns and advocate for more regulation of captioning and audio description. As a result, the FCC put out a public notice to update the 2010 Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), asking for comments from both sides. When the FCC acts on the outcome of those meetings, this will possibly affect the quality of future captions, availability of audio description in non-English languages, and caption requirements on internet programming as well as streaming services.
As we move forward, the technologies will improve as demand increases, and government regulations will have their effect as well. It would be wise to stay ahead of the curve and make the changes before you are required to.
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