Putting the Closed in Closed Caption

I’ll start this off by saying that Closed Captions have been a huge part of my life. Since as far back as I can remember I’ve been watching TV and Movies with the captions. My family’s TV as far back as 1985 had a Closed Caption black box attached to it. We used it because my sister Martha was born deaf and without this she wouldn’t be able to understand the comedy genius of Seinfeld and The Cosby show. When 1993 came around, all TVs sold in America that were larger than 13 inches came with a decoder built in, this was mandated by the FCC. And in 1996 the FCC mandated that all cable operators, broadcasters, satellite distributors and other multichannel video programming distributors provide closed caption for all their TV programs. Even the HDTV you have in your den and bedrooms all have built in Closed Caption technology.


I was able to enjoy the benefits of this technology, when I was born and to this day I have less than 50% of my natural hearing and have even more issues depending on the frequency and pitch of the sounds. In other words, over the past 30 years background noise has been the bane of my existence.


Back in the late 80’s and 90’s the CC was also integrated with VHS movies. When the O’Brien Family bought a copy of E.T. or Titanic we would just have to look at the back of the movie and we’d see the CC logo that meant our entire family could watch the movie and enjoy it. Moving forward in time the DVD format was born and captions came along with it in a big way. Not only could you watch the movie and have captions that didn’t look like they were created with a Mac from 1981, you could change the language. The audio portion of a DVD also benefited from this same bonus. The digital packaging of a movie allowed for one pressing of it’s release to be enjoyed by millions of people across different languages and disabilities (as long as their DVD player was of the same region as the DVD, don’t get me started on that). Blu-Ray movies are much the same, but now we have captions that are much more clear thanks to the hi def tv’s that we all know and love.

The first DVD player was sold in 1997. Around that same time the adaptation rate of the internet exploded. Names such as Yahoo!, AOL On Line, HoTMaiL, and Windows 95 dominated the spectrum and set the standards. Today the major players may have changed but the influence they have hasn’t. Companies such as Google, Apple, Microsoft, and standards such as MP3 are everywhere. Each of these companies have had their own video format that they hoped would be widely adopted as The Standard for the internet age. A format that would replace DVD’s and neglect the need for HD DVD and Blu-ray. Apple was an early player with Quicktime and was successful. Microsoft had WMV and Windows Media Player but that format never got much traction. Google didn’t have a home born format but instead bought YouTube for a (Then) astounding $1.65 Billion. As broadband internet grew more and more video playback websites joined the market. At this point, Adobe Flash was the big winner. Any site that didn’t rely on Quicktime or WMV was using Adobe Flash to deliver their videos. But flash had it’s weaknesses including very public security flaws, poor performance, and a it was a closed format. A large majority of the web thought that h.265 was the future of web video but that format had its own issues because it was not open and required a license to use the MPEG decoder technology. Today Google is a major player in the creation of a new and open internet video standard. A WebM file consists of VP8 video and Vorbis audio streams, in a container based on a profile of Matroska. Google purchased On2 to gain control of VP8 video compression algorithm  Because WebM was released under the BSD license, all users are granted a worldwide, non-exclusive, no-charge, royalty-free patent license. With the usage of the Matroska profile, WebM can contain an unlimited number of video, audio, picture, or subtitle tracks in one file. This means that a WebM could have the same capabilities of a DVD. Thanks for sticking with me through that short history of video formats in the internet age.


Youtube is an interesting creature. Most videos are uploaded by end users and are not controlled by Google, unless they violate Google’s TOS or infringe on copyright violations. Expecting google and their end users to provide CC for all the videos on YouTube would be asking a bit much. Google is leveraging their speech to text systems to add CC to YT videos but a majority of the time it falls flat on it’s face and provides comedy and confusion instead of translations.


But what about other companies that do specialize in Home content delivery? How can companies that sells and rents Movies and TV shows not comply with standards that the FCC put into place almost 30 years ago. Major services such as Amazon, Hulu, Boxee, and Vudu to name a few are selling access to TV shows and Movies without captions. On a nexus 7 tablet you can load up Hulu Plus to watch an episode of Saturday night live but cannot watch it captioned. Launch the same show on an Xbox 360 using the Hulu app and you’ll have no such problem. Try to watch American History X on Vudu using any platform and you’ll never see one option for captions. If you buy a Boxee TV or Boxes Live TV adapter for the Boxee Box and you’ll have terrestrial TV without any captions, you’ll only have the passing promise they are working on it for future releases.


“In October 2010, President Obama signed the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) into law.” The CVAA should have solved these issues. Is very clear that as of September 30, 2012 captions are required “for all prerecorded programming that is not edited for Internet distribution”.  So why in 2013 don’t companies like Amazon offer captions for the media that they provide to the public. It seems like a small and simple question. We’ve had captions for the better part of 20 years. Why is the internet behind the times?

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