The Need for Refined Closed Captioning

We’re all familiar with the unmistakable white text on black background, on TVs at the gym, dentist or perhaps at home. Closed captioning (or CC), has been playing an important role in society for the last 40 years. 

CC made its debut in the US in March 1980, on ABC, NBC, and PBS. The technology has now become invaluable for the hearing impaired, and elderly across the globe. 

Interestingly, it has also become popular amongst the Gen Z hearing population(!), who use it for anything from multitasking, to education, comfort, or ADHD.  

Closed captioning transcriptions include text descriptions of music, background noise and audience applause. Subtitles, on the other hand, assume you can hear; they are direct translations of spoken audio, often from one language to another. 

Originally, CC technology converted human generated captions into electronic code. It has now evolved into new forms of technology for live-transcription of videos on social media. In mid September 2020 Instagram announced the immediate rollout of captioning on IGTV

Hundreds of millions around the world rely on CC to be able to understand what they’re watching on TV or online. Accuracy is paramount, particularly with breaking news stories such as Covid-19, or Australian bushfires; but also to follow the ending to an engrossing romantic movie! 

New technologies (including AI), while being constantly improved, are often imperfect, failing to reach 100% accuracy. Furthermore, in 2014 the US Federal Communications Commission received over 1600 complaints about the accuracy of TV captioning. 

No process is foolproof (and it’s very difficult to get 100% accuracy on live streaming and events), however it is more likely that technology generated text misses a beat, than the eyes and ears of an experienced and attentive transcription expert. 

Note: In Australia, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) regulates closed captioning (and all TV captioning) in Australia. “Captions must comply with requirements set out in legislation, industry codes of practice and the Television Captioning Quality Standard”