This story has been updated and corrected. An earlier version attributed comments to Carol Studenmund of LNS Captioning; the remarks were made by Tole Khesin with the captioning company 3Play Media.
It’s easy to talk about the value of closed captioning for PEG channels. It’s much harder to strategize on technology and resources to make closed-captioning programming as meaningful and cost effective as possible
So what’s a PEG operator to do?
That was one of issues addressed at a recent PEG Roundtable Workshop, held Nov. 10 at the FCC, where policy makers, manufacturers and programmers discussed the challenges and opportunities surrounding PEG closed captioning.
Certain facts speak for themselves: Not only dodeaf and hard-of-hearing people benefit from captions on PEG programming, but so do those who speak English as a second language, said panelist Claude Stout, executive director of telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Consumer Advocacy Network.
“I would like a future where deaf or hard-of-hearing don't just say 'hi' to your neighbors, I would like to be able to participate in the conversation of the neighborhood,” Stout said. “If you have access to that PEG programming you can engage in more intellectual dialogue with members of my community about the issues relevant to us.”
To do that, it’s important to talk about new technologies and ways to effectively earmark those decisions into a PEG budget.
Technologies are being developed that can help reduce the cost of captioning, such as automated transcript alignment processes. When a transcript exists without timecodes, users can use automated alignment to synchronize video with closed captions.
Other technologies address placement issues. To prevent obscuring critical graphics and other text, pixels on each frame are analyzed to determine if captions would obscure critical content in the lower third of a screen. If so, technology can be used to automatically move those captions to another part of the screen without having to manually place captions.
Likewise, PEG operators can use clip captioning that allows users to automatically create captions from pre-captioning full-lenth programming for video clips, which will be required starting February 2017.
“I'm not only an owner of a captioning company but the chair of the Mt. Hood Cable Regulatory Commission, which gives me an interesting perspective of what we do and how it impacts the community,” said Carol Studenmund, president of LNS Captioning. It often starts with the basics. “Each captioner should have backup equipment including power sources to protect your equipment from power surges,” she said, as well as battery backup systems and reliable backup equipment for stenographic machines, computers and modems.
Another best practice for a captioner working with PEG providers: Don’t go it alone. “We know some captioners who are one-person companies who get a contract with a city and then they have trouble handling the long meetings,” she said. Her advice: work with a team that has your back in case of an unscheduled issue or emergency.
The other big issue to address when it comes to captioning for PEG programs? Cost.
“It’s always easy to talk about the value of closed captioning,” said Gregory Hlibok, chief of the FCC Disability Rights Office. “The hard thing is realizing you don't have the resources to do everything that [others] can. So it's really important that we talk about what communities are doing to make [less expensive] types of services available.”
For the Saint Paul Neighborhood Network, it’s been all about partnerships.
“In terms of real-time captioning, one of the things we get to do by being in the city of St. Paul is get involved in some government-related projects, including a partnership with a public television station in western Minnesota that produces a live legislative call-in show once a week and it's closed-captioned,” said Steve Brunsberg, operations and production manager for the Saint Paul Neighborhood Network, a cable television station.
The group has worked closely with the large migrant population in Minnesota, which has translated into partnerships with local organizations. Those groups have then stepped forward to fund some of the station’s caption work. “It was a public health outreach project specifically for the Somali population, and we did both captioning and subtitling on that,” Brunsberg said. “We were able to take some funds from that project, and purchase a pretty expensive piece of software for doing off-line captions.”
Among others, the group has cemented relationships with Disability Minnesota, ECHO Minnesota, and the Commission of Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing Minnesotans to handle translations as well as subtitling and captioning.
Montgomery County in Maryland has taken similar steps, and negotiated a low-cost contract with the National Captioning Institute. “Closed captioning is extremely important to us in Montgomery County because we believe it expands public participation,” said Donna Keating, media services manager for County Cable Montgomery. “We also believe that it facilitates two-way communication. If you know what is happening in your community, you can participate,” she said, pointing to an emergency health incident several years ago and the importance of providing closed captioning for that press event.
It’s important to see captioning as inclusive rather than a burden to PEG programmers.
“[Captioning] isan inclusion technology, and we need to be thinking about it in those terms as we're doing our work to include others in civic communication,” said Mike Wassenaar, president of the Alliance for Community Media, an organization that represents nonprofits and educational institutions that provide PEG channels and programming.
Wassenaar mentioned additional benefits of captioning that often go unmentioned: captioning increases search engine optimization for video (SEO) and makes it easier for viewers to find content.
It often comes down to priorities.
“Where does closed captioning on PEG programming fall for a priority for our community?” asked the FCC’s Hlibok. “That's really where community choice, community action and PEG viewers come into view. If it's important, let your elected officials know that so they can determine best how those scarce budgetary dollars can be spent.”