Subtitling and captioning

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Subtitling and captioning relate to the addition of onscreen text that renders dialogue. To be accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people, subtitles cannot be limited to rendering the dialogues. Additional information (information on the speaker, sound effects, accent) must be provided in order to be understood by deaf or hard of hearing people. In some countries a distinction is made between subtitles and captions.

It is often thought that the availability of Subtitling and captioning removes the need for interpretation into sign language on television for Deaf people. However this assumption is abusive as many members of the Deaf community are less fluent in reading the written language than sign-language. As such the provision of subtitles should not be considered as a golden solution for deaf people whose first language is sign language.

Further information about subtitling and captioning include:

Contents

General information on subtitling

Who benefits from Subtitling

Subtitling increases Television accessibility for many viewers.

Introductory Resources to subtitling

  • Captioning key (external) provides an American perspective of subtitling. The first edition of the Captioning key was developed in 1994 at the initiative of the Captioned Films and Video Program (now Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) and the National Association of the Deaf. This resource has the form of a manual for creating captions and discusses: Quality captioning, text, language mechanics, presentation rate, sound effects, speaker identification as well as synchronization.
  • The Closed Captioning.net Blog (external) is a blog discussing about the changing laws, tricks, techniques and technologies related to captions in the USA. The Blog is written by CaptionLabs.com, a US-based company providing closed captioning solutions for different platforms.
  • Bill Creswell's blog (external) is dedicated to discussing online and offline subtitling services. This regularly updated blog provides links to Captioning tools, video players supporting subtitles as well as to captioned movies
  • State of Subtitling Access in EU-2011 (external): In 2011, the European Federation of Hard of Hearing people published a report on the state of Subtitling in EU Member-States. This report provides an overview of the state of subtitling in Europe a well as some arguments on why subtitling is important and can benefit all viewers and how subtitles are delivered across Europe. This report is available in English (external) and in Spanish (external)
  • The Captioning FAQ created by the Media Access Group at WGBH provides general information of different types of captions (external), production processes, transmission and distribution problems etc.
  • Accessible Rhetoric (external) by Sean Zdenek is a blog devoted to exploring accessibility at the intersection of technology and rhetoric. This Blog is mainly interested in the rhetoric of closed captioning.
  • The national Captioning Institute was established in 1979 as a nonprofit corporation with the mission of ensuring that deaf and hard of hearing people, as well as others who can benefit from the service, have access to television's entertainment and news through the technology of closed captioning. Their website provides dedicated information on what captioning are and how it works, as well as answers viewers' FAQs (external).
  • The Irish Nation IT Accessibility Guidelines (external) provides a wealth of information on Captioning.
  • In France, the Conseil Supérieur de l'Audiovisuel's website provides a wealth of information on subtitling (external), especially regarding legislation and broadcasters' obligations and production processes (in French).
  • Closed Captioning.net Blog (external) is a blog discussing about the changing laws, tricks, techniques and technologies related to captions in the USA. The Blog is written by CaptionLabs.com, a US-based company providing closed captioning solutions for different platforms.
  • Assistive Technology's FAQs on closed captions (external) provides general information on what Closed Captioning is, who benefits from it, how to create them as well as some information on business models.
  • Audio-Accessibiliy.com (external) is a web-blog full of resources on closed-captioning for Television and new media. This blog includes best practices for making events and multimedia accessible via good quality transcripts and captions; communication access services and assistive technologies for people with deafness and hearing loss; communication tips with deaf and hard of hearing people. This blog also provides guidance on how to make transcript (podcasts) and how to make captions for videos.
  • The terms captioning and subtitling may be confusing to some readers as both terms relate to the addition of onscreen text that renders dialogue. Although In UK English, subtitling is used to mean both captioning and subtitling, in Canadian, American, New Zealand, and Australian English captioning and subtitling refer to two different realities. In this understanding, captions are intended for deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences while the assumed audience for subtitling is hearing people who do not understand the language of dialogue. As such, captions provides information on sounds effect and denote who the speaker is. This topic is discussed by the Canadian Site Screenfont.CA (external) that provides a clarification of this distinction as well as on Joe Clark's website (external).

Resources on the Production process

Pre-recorded subtitling

Pre-recorded captioning (off-line captioning) is the captioning of recorded video programmes.

Resources on pre-recorded subtitling include:

  • The National Captioning Institute (NCI)'s website provides an explanation on the prerecorded captioning process (external).
  • BBC produced an excellent video to explain how the subtitles are produced (external). It gives an explanation of the creation process of live and pre-recorded subtitles and looks at users' preferences when it comes to using subtitles. Mainly interested at the UK context, this video provides some fair explanation of the techniques and technology currently used to produce subtitles and their inherent limitations (accuracy, delays etc.). After having looked at the history of subtitling at the BBC, the video presents some outcomes of the DTV4ALL Project with regards to viewers' usage of subtitles.
  • The Captioning FAQ created by the Media Access Group at WGBH provides general information of different types of captions (external), production processes, transmission and distribution problems etc.
  • Assistive Technology's FAQs on closed captions (external) provides general information on what Closed Captioning is, who benefits from it, how to create them as well as some information on business models.
  • Audio-Accessibiliy.com (external) is a web-blog full of resources on closed-captioning for Television and new media. This blog includes best practices for making events and multimedia accessible via good quality transcripts and captions; communication access services and assistive technologies for people with deafness and hearing loss; communication tips with deaf and hard of hearing people. This blog also provides guidance on how to make transcript (podcasts) and how to make captions for videos.

Live subtitling

The proportion of television programming that is produced live is increasing and this has implications for the broadcasters who want to provide captions for these programmes. The workflow of live subtitling is indeed very different from pre-prepared (off-line) subtitling and present the additional challenge of being produced on the fly while the delay in delivering the captions should be as short as possible and the quality of the captions as high as possible.

Today, the main method used for live-subtitles is “re-speaking”. This means that a specialist (a subtitler) listens to a certain programme and dictates the subtitles (with the necessary text compression) into a voice-recognition speech-to-text-system. Other used methods include stenography and having subtitlers manually key-in small chunks of the text.

One of the limits and difficulty of live subtitling is the necessary delay (a few seconds) of subtitles with regard to the audio, due to the process of creating the captions (re-speaking, correction, segmentation of the text, addition of punctuation etc.). Studies have indicated that for many users more than inaccuracy the delay was perceived by the viewers as the main problems of live-subtitles.

Resources on live-subtitling include:

Experimentation with crowd-source captioning

Recently, there have been several online initiatives to promote “crowd-sourced captioning” (also referred to as universal subtitles) where volunteers are used to produce multi-lingual subtitles (e.g. TED, PBS “News Hour”, etc). Broadcasters employing this method must employ strict quality control mechanisms, since they are subject to national legislation and there are liability issues to take into account.

Resources on Standards

Resources related to Standards and guidelines on subtitling include:

Resources on Legislation

Find out more on:

Subtitling software

Subtitling software include:

  • Aegisub (external) is a free open-source cross-platform subtitle editing software. It is mainly used for creating unofficial, non-commercial subtitles for visual media as well as for the creation of karaoke.
  • SubStationAlpha (SSA) (external) is a subtitle file format frequently used in anime fan subs, either to overlay subtitles onto video while it is being encoded or to store subtitle data alongside video data in Matroska (external) container. It supports Text Formatting and Styling and has several options such as Karaoke, audio effecs, graphic drawings etc.
  • Subtitle Edit (SE) (external) (Windows) is a free open-source subtitle software used to create, edit or synchronize subtitles for videos. It supports 140 subtitles formats including SubRib, Times Text, SubStation Alpha, Micro DVD, SAMI, D-Cinema, BdSub.
  • Gaupol Subtitle Editor (external) is an editor for text-based subtitles files. It supports multiple subtitle file formats and provides means of text corrections and time manipulations.
  • Jubler (external) is an open-source multi-platform text-based subtitle editor software. It can be used to author new subtitles or as a tool to convert or edit existing subtitles.
  • Miyu (external) is a subtitle editor software on Mac OSX. that provides tools for scripting, timing and typesetting.
  • Subtitle Processor (external) is a subtitle editor software for Mac OSX.
  • VisualSubSync (external) is a subtitle programme using audio waveform representation as its cornerstone. It provides error checking, speed indicators as well as network suggestions to help users to improve the quality of the subtitles.
  • Subtitle Workshop (external) (Windows) is a free open source subtitle software.