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NAB, EMA Share Closed Caption Interests

27 Apr, 2015 By: Mark Fisher, Entertainment Merchants Association

Recognizing how much our industry is changing, the Entertainment Merchants Association (EMA) attended the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show for the first time recently. In the past, the NAB Show would not have been of particular interest to us, given its focus on cameras, cranes, video editing software, and the other apparatuses necessary for television and radio broadcasters.

However, as broadcast television and online video converge and the lines between the two become less distinguishable, it has become clear we share common interests with our colleagues in the broadcast industry. Indeed, a number of EMA members exhibited at this year’s NAB Show, and many more attended.

In addition to visiting EMA members exhibiting at the NAB Show and co-hosting a reception for our attending members, EMA assembled a forum on closed captioning for online video.

Closed captioning is a good example of where the interests of broadcasters and the online video industry are converging. Broadcasters have for many years been required to caption their programming. In the past few years, the legal requirements for closed captioning have been extended to the online video industry, making online video more accessible to deaf and hard-of-hearing consumers.

Putting aside the legal requirements, closed captioning of online video just makes sense. Why would we as an industry not want to make our products as accessible to the widest possible audience? And captioning serves not only the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, but the larger audience as well. I must admit I find myself sometimes turning the captions on during programs produced in Great Britain. The accents in programs such as “Downton Abbey” can make it difficult for me to fully comprehend what is being said.

Our discussion about closed captions at the NAB Show — which included retailers, studios and captioning houses — revealed that captioning is not just simply putting the words on the screen. Some of the issues are technical, such as converting captions on legacy broadcast programming to formats that can display correctly on a variety of online platforms, ensuring proper positioning, and synchronizing the caption frame rate with the associated video frame rate.

Other issues are stylistic. I learned from the attendees at our forum that content providers and retailers have a variety of style guides they use that dictate things such as italicization, capitalization, fonts and colors. It’s a challenge to make sure that correct style is used for a particular title.
The forum attendees also discussed the emerging movement to provide audio descriptions of onscreen activity for the benefit of the blind and low-vision people. (Coincidentally, later that day Netflix announced its new initiative to add audio descriptions to select titles that it offers. I’m pleased to see the industry embracing this without a legal mandate.)

EMA has already done some work in trying to bring some consistency to captioning practices. We just released a document called “Best Practices for Closed Captioning of Internet Protocol-Delivered Video Programming in the United States.” Developed by a working group of retailers, with assistance from MovieLabs, the document identifies recommended options for caption files formats, describes how to communicate the frame rate used in the caption files, and explains how to meet the captioning legal requirement if closed captions are not provided.

The best practices document is available at www.digitalema.org.

Based on the suggestions at our forum, we will expand our efforts to provide greater consistency in closed captioning practices for online video. This will not only help remove inefficiencies and costs from the digital supply chain, but also hopefully make more programming accessible to the widest possible audience.

And we look forward to continue to attend the NAB Show to learn more about issues, like closed captioning, that are common to the broadcast and the online video industries.

About the Author: Mark Fisher

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