It was the poet Tennyson who wrote about “brawling courts and dusty purlieus of the law”. Which may seem like an unlikely point to start a technical blog, but bear with me:
21st Century Communications and Video c Act
Broadcasting has always been regulated by law, and as technology and society have moved on, so has the law. In the US, for instance, we now have to take note of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, a bipartisan measure signed into law by President Obama, and in effect since 30 September last year.
One of the key provisions is that it extends the expectation that content will be closed captioned to provide access by the hearing impaired. More specifically, it says that not only does television have to be captioned, but if you are then going to repurpose the content, then you have to repurpose the captions, too.
Once a television program or movie has been shown on television in the United States with captions, then it must also have captions for IP delivery, which includes video on demand, streaming to mobiles and anything else you can think of.
Perversely, programs delivered by IP do not have to be captioned until they are broadcast on television. That said, Netflix has entered into a legal agreement with the National Association for the Deaf to caption all of its content in 2014 (it already provides captions for more than 80% of its shows).
Editing the content for Internet distribution does not make it a new program, so you cannot get away with not captioning if you make a few edits.
So this is an issue that has to be faced. By my reckoning we currently have 15 different input caption formats and 23 delivery formats, which just adds to all the other conversion challenges we all face in delivering multi-platform content. So you need to find a way to manage captions sensibly.
It Doesn’t Have to be That Hard
For me, the answer is simple. You manage video and audio by ingesting to a house standard and doing all the manipulations at the point of delivery. Treat captions in exactly the same way: ingest them to your preferred format, and then link them as metadata to the master content file.
If it gets edited along the way then the captions get edited too (although you need a bit of clever stuff here to make sure that you still have time to read the captions, and they still make sense). Then the caption file is right and ready to go, whatever the output package.
Providing access to your content by as many viewers as possible is sound business sense and socially responsible. And now it’s the law.