Text Size:   A+ A- A   •   Text Only
Site Image

FAQ About Captioning
Oregon's Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services (ODHHS)-Technical Assistance Center
ODHHS Information and Technical Assistance Series

Frequently Asked Questions About Captioning
(Source: Caption Center)
(Q) Who watches closed captions?
(A) An estimated 20 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 deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals.
Captions enable deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers 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.
(Q) What are closed captions?
(A) Like subtitles, captions display spoken dialogue as printed words on the television screen. Unlike subtitles, captions are specifically designed for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers. Captions are carefully placed to identify speakers, on- and off-screen sound effects, music and laughter.
Closed captions are hidden as data within the television signal and they must be decoded to be displayed on your TV screen. With either a set-top decoder or one of the new caption-ready sets, you can switch captions on or off with the touch of a button.
(Q) Where are caption-capable TV sets sold?
(A) 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.
(Q) How are captions produced?
(A) Caption writers transcribe a program's entire script into a computer using a software program developed by The Caption Center. Caption writers time and place captions, then add or adapt information to give viewers a full sense of the events occurring on screen. Finally, the last step in an intricate process that can take up to 30 hours for a one-hour program, captions are encoded as data into the program's video, ready for broadcast or duplication.
(Q) How are live programs captioned?
(A) 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 cheaper though less comprehensive alternative to stenocaptioning.
(Q) How do you know if a program is captioned?
(A) 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.
(Q) How much television programming is closed captioned?
(A) 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 and music videos are also accessible.
But many hours of programming remain inaccessible. As more homes become equipped with decoding TVs, the caption-viewing audience will grow and the demand for more captioned programming should rise accordingly.
(Q) Why do captions sometimes appear with a program on one channel, then disappear when the program is later broadcast on different channel?
(A) 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 Caption Center works with the production community to ensure that the captions we produce follow a program through its many lives.
(Q) Who pays for captioning?
(A) Advertisers, producers, networks, cable services, the federal government, foundations, corporations and individuals all participate in funding the cost of closed captioning.
(Q) Who decides which programs to caption?
(A) 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.
Feedback from the caption-viewing audience also is essential to program selection. Letters to producers, networks, TV stations and advertisers are effective means for thanking funders or encouraging support.
To contact us for more information about captioning:
The Caption Center at WGBH
125 Western Avenue
Boston, MA 02134
(617) 492-9225 V/TTY