A Guide to Closed Captioning Technology

Closed captioning may be defined as transcribed text that runs simultaneously with video. Those who are hard of hearing, deaf, or speak a foreign language can benefit from the use of a captioning service. The first use of closed captioning occurred in 1976, on Julia Child’s PBS show The French Chef. PBS sought approval to use closed captioning on their programming to ensure that their deaf andhard-of-hearing audiences weren’t excluded from viewing. Over the years, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has updated rules and regulations regarding closed captioning services. With the arrival of online video services and streaming video, the need for more extensive closed captioning service is great. In 2014, the FCC updated their rules to require that all digital services must provide closed captioning.

How Closed Captions Work

There are two types or formats used for closed captioning. One type involves creating a separate, distinct file that is played in conjunction with a video. The second method consists of embedding closed captioning into the video itself. When closed captioning is created in a separate file, different methods are used. These include binary, text, and XML. Closed captioning and subtitles are similar but different. While subtitles are used to translate a film into another language, they are not geared toward the hearing impaired. Closed captioning includes information beyond the dialogue of a film, like music credits, transcribed sound effects, lyrics to songs, and sometimes the name of the person speaking in a film.

Benefits of Closed Captioning

There are many benefits to closed captioning that are advantageous for the hearing-impaired community. Those who are deaf or hard of hearing would not have access to breaking news reports, entertainment shows, or educational content without closed captioning. The ability to turn closed captioning on and off ensures that everyone can control the service to their liking. This is beneficial for those who share a household with a hearing-impaired person. And closed captioning enables those who have trouble with literacy to improve reading and comprehension skills.

FCC Regulatory Background on Closed Captioning

The FCC first issued regulations regarding closed captioning on programs in 1993. The regulations involved analog television sets that featured screens larger than 13 inches. As digital television became standard, the FCC updated regulations to include digital displays as well. Currently, the FCC has extended the regulations to include online media streaming networks such as Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Netflix.

Exempt Programming

Under current federal regulations, there are two instances in which broadcasters may be exempted from closed captioning requirements. The first is self-implementing exemptions, and the FCC provides a list of all qualifying criteria. The second form of exemption is a result of economic burden to the broadcaster. Broadcast media that is subtitled may also be exempt from closed captioning requirements.

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Sandy Fitzgerald