Unscrambling caption quality control

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Monday, 16 December 2013 10:59am

In 2014 Media Access Australia will release the world’s first review of how the quality of closed captions and subtitles for the Deaf and hearing impaired is controlled internationally. The white paper is sponsored by Red Bee Media and will explore how a more consistent approach to captioning will benefit both viewers and caption providers internationally.

The report will draw on a range of approaches from across the world, both in English and other languages and will examine how various countries such as the UK, USA and Australia ensure the accuracy of closed captions on broadcast television.

As captions have become commonplace in most markets, the attention of viewers and policy makers has shifted to looking at quality. Common complaints from viewers include captions that lag behind the program’s audio, spelling errors and confused words. Different methods of production can significantly influence caption quality and thus the research will look at the technological developments that have taken place and affected caption quality.

While regulations have been put in place in various countries including Australia, there remains no international standard for what specifies broadcast quality captions. The paper will explore how various regulators are approaching this problem and seek to outline a model that everyone can use.

The research is being led by Media Access Australia (MAA) project manager Chris Mikul, who has two decades of experience in improving access to television.

“Caption quality is a big issue around the world at the moment, mainly because there is much more live captioning on TV than there used to be, and the quality of it can vary dramatically. There’s a lot of work being done in locking down standards and finding practical ways to measure quality, so it’s going to be a very interesting area to research. And there’s a lot riding on it because so many people rely on the captions for news, sport and other live programs,” said Mikul.

MAA is one of the only organisations in the world that exists solely to improve access to media and technology for people with disability. As an independent not-for-profit, MAA is well placed to provide independent advice to television networks and government regulators.

Red Bee Media is the world’s largest provider of access services and operates in many markets across Europe, North America and Australia.

“We are proud to sponsor Media Access Australia’s review of caption quality standards, both locally and internationally – and we look forward to the white paper flagging the key areas for improvement and industry dialogue,” said Chris Howe Managing Director, Red Bee Media Australia.

“Our company continues to invest in the ongoing development of new technology to improve all aspects of captioning quality and we will continue to work closely with all stakeholders to ensure the quality of our access services exceed industry standards.”

Should the white paper’s recommendations be implemented, it will enable a more consistent approach by broadcasters internationally and give people who are Deaf or hearing impaired more equitable access to television.

The paper is due for release in February.

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