Captions on TCM

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greta de groat

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Captions on TCM

PostThu Oct 29, 2015 7:54 am

I've just been visiting my elderly parents, and we watched a lot of tv with the captions on, including TCM. I'd observed in past how the captions on the news sometimes fell behind the speaker and would contain typos and misunderstandings. I wasn't surprised by this in a live broadcast where'd I imagined a typist saw struggling to keep up. But movies I'd seen always had good captions. I was surprised to see on most of the things we watched this time that the captions were riddled with errors, often becoming incomprehensible, and having occasional howlers (our favorite--some Indians signaling to Kirk Douglas and friends, and someone announces via caption "He's giving the Pee sign!")

The captioning services are credited at the end so I was surprised at how slapdash it was. Which makes me wonder--ar the captions on these broadcasts being produced live during the broadcast? Seems like that might be slightly cheaper for. A sone time broadcast than giving the captioned a screener so they could take their time. On the other hand, they hare presumably going to repeat the broadcast and might need the captions for the DVD (though I'll bet the on demand DVDs don't have captions, am I right?). And a is it an actual person typing this or are they using voice recognition software?

Just curious. I'd always found the captions useful when visiting them before or watching in a public place, but this time they were a major distraction.

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Re: Captions on TCM

PostThu Oct 29, 2015 8:40 am

I generally turn on captions for British film and TV; especially useful for recent productions. Captioning for streaming is generally subject to the kinds of things you mention. I've seen Poirots, for example, where the errors reverse plot points. Howlers abound. It's obvious the captions have been transcribed not from scripts but a la dictation, by people coming cold to the programs, genres, period language, cultural references, you name it. Words and names unfamiliar to the transcriber are often attempted phonetically to amusing and sometimes incomprehensible effect, or are merely given as "speaking indistinctly" even if it's something crucial. I've seen similar things in DVD captions, though with much less frequency. I'm sure it's not being done in real time, but rather just a function that's being done on the cheap, and of course not restricted to British-originating content. I have to wonder how hearing-impaired folks are able to understand what's actually going on in so many cases.
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Re: Captions on TCM

PostThu Oct 29, 2015 9:15 am

I don't have TCM but I use the captions all the time these days, because 1) I don't like the television played loudly, and 2) too many Who concerts in my youth. For the stuff I watch the captioning seems to be pretty good--sometimes the captions will get behind the speech, but not often. I like the little musical notes indicating background music. Captions on youtube or live feeds can be very amusing, but I imagine frustrating for those who really need them.
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Re: Captions on TCM

PostThu Oct 29, 2015 9:17 am

One suspects they hire Garrett Morriss.

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Censored Captions and Cut Scenes

PostThu Oct 29, 2015 10:19 am

This might've been mentioned in another thread.
The captioning on some of the digital broadcast sub-channels
is amusing for reasons besides what often seems to be
the wild guess work of the captioners.
1. Certain innocent words are presumed guilty by the captioning robots:
e.g. "Cocktails" becomes "****tails" and "despicable" becomes "de****able"
2. The digital broadcast sub-channels cut and/or time-compress their ancient re-runs
in order to fit in more commercials than were originally allowed when their programs
were first presented on the networks. Sometimes, the caption robots have not
been alerted of this, and thus, for example, episodes of The Avengers have run
with captions for scenes that had been scissored for time.
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Jim Roots

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Re: Captions on TCM

PostThu Oct 29, 2015 12:12 pm

Since you were watching on TV rather than streaming from a web service, the references from other posters about Youtube and streaming are irrelevant here. (Meaning no disrespect to those who posted about Youtube and etc.)

On TV programming, you mostly have a choice of methods which are determined by whether the programming is live or pre-recorded.

Standard sitcoms, dramas, movies, etc. are usually pre-recorded. The captioning is added by professional captionists working from a written script and often an audio feed. This kind of captioning is almost always provided by a captionist working off-site, i.e., not in the broadcast studio. A program broadcast in Toronto may have been captioned by someone working in Honolulu (true case, BTW) and transmitted to the broadcaster via satellite.

Election debates, sports, interview shows, etc. are considered live programming. I happen to be in the middle of a regulatory proceeding on the quality of captioning of live programming in Canada right now and have a lot of interesting new research reports here. Canadian broadcasters are whining that the required goal of 95% accuracy in live captioning is impossible to achieve. Europeans have proven that in fact 98% accuracy is doable and is now being achieved in Spain and a few other countries; the people responsible for it are now working with England to implement the system there, but unfortunately the FCC very recently decided not to try it in the USA. Part of my work in the proceeding is to convince our regulatory agency (CRTC) to order the broadcasters to experiment with the European model here.

Regardless of accuracy, it is both humanly and technologically impossible to deliver live captioning with a lag time of less than about 6 seconds. This is why the captioning for debates and sports is always falling behind the actual chatter. If the commentator is a motormouth like Don Cherry or John Madden, the captionist will never be able to provide a good transcription.

Live programming is captioned by captionists utilizing voice-recognition and word-prediction technology as they type. Typos are almost inevitable, but when you consider the fastest typist is always going to be producing words at about 60-80% of the amount of words that people can speak, especially in fast-paced chatter involving a lot of overlapping voices, achieving 95% error-free scripts is pretty impressive, let alone 98% error-free.

That said, once a typo is made, it can get embedded in the word-prediction facility and it will reappear until the captionist gets a chance to insert a correction. That's why many captionists interrupt themselves to correct what might seem like a very minor typo. It's like getting a misspelling of an email address embedded into your directory; thereafter, the word-prediction is going to consistently insert the wrong address every time you try to type in that person's address and send him/her an email.

Aside from typos and corrections and embedded misspellings, most captioning errors will be technological ones. This is particularly true of pre-recorded captioning, which I assume is what TCM is providing. One example: a re-broadcast, or (here in Canada) a simultaneous substitution of another broadcaster's signal, can lead to the captioning signal losing its "place" if a commercial break runs one or two seconds overtime, causing the captions to garble. If a TV signal is being sent over Broadcasting Distribution Units -- i.e., being sent across geographical space from one distribution unit to another (like old-fashioned radio towers) so Nevada gets the same programming as Miami, or whatever -- then the BDU's can often screw up the signal as they transmit it. Keep in mind the captioning signal is separate from the general broadcast signal: it is an add-on and thus vulnerable to being damaged in transmission even when the general signal is not damaged.

And then there is your home receiving set. New set-top boxes aren't always fully compatible with captioning signals. Sometimes the captioning controls are in the set-top box; sometimes they are in your TV set; it makes a difference. In Canada, Rogers provides set-top boxes that leave the captioning controls in your hands, but Telus and Shaw both provide set-top boxes that take over control of the captioning, and they can leave you incredibly frustrated in trying to get the captioning set up properly.

So there are a lot of factors, including some I haven't bothered to mention here because this posting is already too long.

Jim
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greta de groat

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Re: Captions on TCM

PostThu Oct 29, 2015 1:04 pm

Thanks, Jim, i knew you would have the scoop on this. But since TCM is prerecorded, why are the captions so bad? Is the service they are contracting with just hurried and cheap and don't bother to check? In real time broadcast it's understandable but seems like no excuse for prerecorded shows. Isn't there any quality control at TCM? Really, i couldn 't see how someone actually relying on the captions could tell what was going on at times, many sentences were completely incomprehensible. And i didn't see any self-correcting there like i saw on the news.

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Re: Captions on TCM

PostThu Oct 29, 2015 1:08 pm

Many years ago, I worked as a captioner. It was quite interesting work, and involved a lot more editorial decision-making than I expected. Quite aside from simply transcribing, you had to decide how much dialogue should appear on each screen, whether to omit words for brevity's sake and how to keep the gist of the original; whether to describe music or sound effects, and so on.

Captioning was a two-tier world, and I was on the bottom tier, doing pre-recorded shows. On the top tier were the live captioners. As far as I know, they did not yet have the technological short cuts Jim describes - they typed at a phenomenal speed, didn't have the luxury of fixing mistakes (from memory, there was a very short window in which they could do that, but you had to be careful not to fall behind), had to have perfect spelling, and know every obscure name or term from every facet of current affairs, sports, and popular culture. It was skilled work and paid accordingly.

Greta, what you describe smacks of cost-cutting and outsourcing to me. I can just imagine some bigwig marching in and declaring that it could all be done in half the time at a quarter of the cost if they sacked everyone and hired college students, or sent everything offshore to be done in sweatshops. Or, if a computer program could do it all at 1/10th the cost and 2/10ths the quality, more's the better! Probably, it's a combination of all of these things, plus the fact that any quality control jobs would have been the first to go, in much the same way that sub-editors have been practically eradicated from most newspapers.

That's a real shame, as one of the things they did impress upon us was how deeply the people who used our services - many of them elderly, disabled or isolated - relied on us to do a good job.
Last edited by Brooksie on Fri Oct 30, 2015 3:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Captions on TCM

PostThu Oct 29, 2015 7:17 pm

The SBS TV network started in Oz in 1981 primarily to present the best in world TV and to also present programming for different ethnic audiences. Consequently they have always done their own sub-titling of motion pictures and recorded programming. It is very good - "proper" sized lettering in yellow. The only quibble I would have is that it is often a precis as to what is actually spoken but that is a minor point. Live news broadcasts from other countries are not sub-titled and I must admit that I have not turned the CC facility on to see whether sub-titling is available on them, but I think that if it was, it would most likely be in the language transmitted.
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Re: Captions on TCM

PostFri Oct 30, 2015 6:15 am

greta de groat wrote:Thanks, Jim, i knew you would have the scoop on this. But since TCM is prerecorded, why are the captions so bad? Is the service they are contracting with just hurried and cheap and don't bother to check? In real time broadcast it's understandable but seems like no excuse for prerecorded shows. Isn't there any quality control at TCM? Really, i couldn 't see how someone actually relying on the captions could tell what was going on at times, many sentences were completely incomprehensible. And i didn't see any self-correcting there like i saw on the news.

greta


Is TCM's captioning usually good in your own home? If yes, then your parents' home may have experienced a local technology problem such as the BDU transmission glitches I mentioned. I once complained a Hamilton (Ontario) station's captioning was terrible, yet the station insisted the captioning was perfect when it left their transmitter, and no one in Toronto or other Ontario cities reported my problem. They finally decided to track the signal from Hamilton to Ottawa, and discovered someone had turned off an important switch in the Ottawa transponder that caused the captioning to be scrambled only in my neighbourhood.

Was TCM the only channel with screwed-up captioning on the particular night you were watching? If all or most of the channels had glitches, then the problem would be with your parents' service provider (cable company or whoever delivers the TV package into their home) or else with your parents' own receivers. If the problem was only on TCM, then it's TCM's responsibility to track down the cause.

It is rare that pre-recorded captioning is done by incompetent captionists; the nature of pre-recording means there is usually time to fix errors before distributing the signal, so even a shaky captionist would normally get his/her work improved by a supervisor before it got distributed. But yes, there are certainly cut-rate captionists out there, preying on broadcasters who are too cheap, too cynical, too ignorant, and/or too apathetic to ensure quality of captioning.

I can't stress the issue of synchronization too strongly. As I said before, just one second of being out of sync with the programming signal can cause the captioning signal to show up full of glitches. This is usually the fault of the broadcaster, not the captionist. Moreover, few broadcasters bother to assign anyone on staff to monitor the captioning, so the problem can go on forever simply because no one in the station has noticed it; or, as in the example I gave above, the signal can emerge flawless from the studio but somebody flicked the wrong switch at the transponder, so the broadcaster has no idea the captions are messed-up.

And lastly, in the case of DVD's (which may be what TCM is using occasionally), the captioning can be poorly synchronized. Those Sid Caesar DVDs from 10-15 years ago have distressingly delayed captioning throughout every single disc of the series. Some of the Carol Burnett Show discs do, too. This is technological incompetence or laziness.

You should write a letter to TCM identifying dates and times and programs that had bad captioning, and indicating where your parents live (general neighbourhood, not the full address). Be sure to cc to the Federal Communications Commission; that will force TCM to actually investigate the problem and not just brush you off with a form letter thanking you for "your support". If their answer doesn't satisfy you, write again with cc to FCC. The FCC does put complaints in the broadcaster's file and brings them out at licence renewal hearings, and in the meantime FCC will direct TCM to "respond" to you with details that prove TCM did look into the problem.

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Re: Captions on TCM

PostFri Oct 30, 2015 7:39 am

Thanks, Jim. I don't use the captioning at home, but their captioning was noticeably worse on all programs than in previous visits so perhaps it was a technical glitch. They have satellite tv. And despite having a wide screen had tv, their picture was far from satisfactory to me, though they seemed not to notice. I'll see what I can find out, thanks for the leads.

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Re: Captions on TCM

PostFri Oct 30, 2015 11:53 am

greta de groat wrote:Thanks, Jim. I don't use the captioning at home, but their captioning was noticeably worse on all programs than in previous visits so perhaps it was a technical glitch. They have satellite tv. And despite having a wide screen had tv, their picture was far from satisfactory to me, though they seemed not to notice. I'll see what I can find out, thanks for the leads.

Greta


If the picture is also bad, then you've probably got a problem with a bad or weak or poorly-located satellite dish or satellite service. Contact your parents' service providers and tell them to come over and check it out.

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Re: Captions on TCM

PostFri Oct 30, 2015 5:42 pm

When you mentioned technical glitches, I wondered if it might be connected with the picture. I'll check it out, thanks.

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Re: Captions on TCM

PostFri Oct 30, 2015 8:32 pm

We try to supply SHD files whenever we can to TCM -- usually for the major titles. But we usually don't for subtitled or silent films. Then there's a number of films that are so small that TCM probably has a service doing it instead of the distributor. So I suspect that cc's are uneven from film to film.
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Re: Captions on TCM

PostSat Oct 31, 2015 10:18 am

Jim Roots wrote:
greta de groat wrote:Thanks, Jim. I don't use the captioning at home, but their captioning was noticeably worse on all programs than in previous visits so perhaps it was a technical glitch. They have satellite tv. And despite having a wide screen had tv, their picture was far from satisfactory to me, though they seemed not to notice. I'll see what I can find out, thanks for the leads.

Greta


If the picture is also bad, then you've probably got a problem with a bad or weak or poorly-located satellite dish or satellite service. Contact your parents' service providers and tell them to come over and check it out.

Jim
In that case I'd expect the captions to have random letters missing or wrong, and not so much misheared or mistimed.

The standards for captioning television seem lower than for VHS/LD/DVD/BR anyway. The BBC's captioning isn't always very impressive either.
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Re: Captions on TCM

PostThu Nov 19, 2015 1:08 pm

Jim Roots wrote:
If the picture is also bad, then you've probably got a problem with a bad or weak or poorly-located satellite dish or satellite service. Contact your parents' service providers and tell them to come over and check it out.

Jim


Jim, I binge watched a television series a few weeks ago that had captions appearing in different areas of the screen, similar to lettering in comics; no arrow pointing toward the talking head, but it did give a better idea of who was saying what when there was a lot of conversation or background noise. Is this common now?
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Re: Captions on TCM

PostFri Nov 20, 2015 7:26 am

Frederica wrote:
Jim Roots wrote:
If the picture is also bad, then you've probably got a problem with a bad or weak or poorly-located satellite dish or satellite service. Contact your parents' service providers and tell them to come over and check it out.

Jim


Jim, I binge watched a television series a few weeks ago that had captions appearing in different areas of the screen, similar to lettering in comics; no arrow pointing toward the talking head, but it did give a better idea of who was saying what when there was a lot of conversation or background noise. Is this common now?


It's never been really common, but it has been around for quite a long time. The rarity of its use was mostly due to the work involved in placing the dialogue captions over the appropriate actor, which meant the captionist needed more than the usual amount of time to get the job done. That meant, in turn, that the placement could only be done for pre-recorded programming that would be broadcast a good chunk of time in the future (like tomorrow or next week). It couldn't be done for live programming or for last-minute pre-recorded programming (the latter case would be typical of The Tonight Show, which in Jay Leno's day was pre-recorded but only a few hours before airtime).

As the technology develops, it could become more common. Then again, testing indicated viewers had a problem following dialogue if the actors moved around and their "personal" captions moved with them. If you get three or four actors in the same scene and they are all moving around, there's too much visual clutter and the viewer can get confused about which caption matches up with which actor.

Believe it or not, Britain used to have these "personal" captions way back in the early days -- I forget if it was the late 80s or early 90s -- and they also had the solution to the problem of keeping track of which caption matched up with which restlessly mobile actor: they used colour captions! Each actor had his/her own colour of captioning, so viewers had no trouble tracking the dialogue with the actor. Britain was so far ahead of everybody else ... then somehow they turned into the Commodore 64's of the captioning world.*

* Caveat: I never saw these colour captions myself, since I never lived in Britain. They were mentioned in loads of references and research going up to the middle 1990s, and I recall seeing screen captures printed in the Deaf magazine of Britain.

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Re: Captions on TCM

PostFri Nov 20, 2015 9:54 am

Jim Roots wrote:It's never been really common, but it has been around for quite a long time. The rarity of its use was mostly due to the work involved in placing the dialogue captions over the appropriate actor, which meant the captionist needed more than the usual amount of time to get the job done. That meant, in turn, that the placement could only be done for pre-recorded programming that would be broadcast a good chunk of time in the future (like tomorrow or next week). It couldn't be done for live programming or for last-minute pre-recorded programming (the latter case would be typical of The Tonight Show, which in Jay Leno's day was pre-recorded but only a few hours before airtime).

As the technology develops, it could become more common. Then again, testing indicated viewers had a problem following dialogue if the actors moved around and their "personal" captions moved with them. If you get three or four actors in the same scene and they are all moving around, there's too much visual clutter and the viewer can get confused about which caption matches up with which actor.

Believe it or not, Britain used to have these "personal" captions way back in the early days -- I forget if it was the late 80s or early 90s -- and they also had the solution to the problem of keeping track of which caption matched up with which restlessly mobile actor: they used colour captions! Each actor had his/her own colour of captioning, so viewers had no trouble tracking the dialogue with the actor. Britain was so far ahead of everybody else ... then somehow they turned into the Commodore 64's of the captioning world.*

* Caveat: I never saw these colour captions myself, since I never lived in Britain. They were mentioned in loads of references and research going up to the middle 1990s, and I recall seeing screen captures printed in the Deaf magazine of Britain.

Jim


COLOR! What a great idea! Differing fonts might also work. (One of the great jokes in Asterix vs. the Goths is that the Goths always speak in Gothic Bold.) The background music on this show was identified whenever possible...or wait, maybe it was another show, something that made use of rock/pop tunes. Can't remember now.
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Re: Captions on TCM

PostFri Nov 20, 2015 10:38 am

Frederica wrote:COLOR! What a great idea! Differing fonts might also work. (One of the great jokes in Asterix vs. the Goths is that the Goths always speak in Gothic Bold.) The background music on this show was identified whenever possible...or wait, maybe it was another show, something that made use of rock/pop tunes. Can't remember now.


A TV show that uses rock/pop tunes? Way to narrow it down...

It's not universal, but most shows will identify the title of a piece of music in the background nowadays. I'm watching season two of Boardwalk Empire on DVD and it nearly always identifies the jazz tunes being played. Sometimes, if it seems to be a generic musical noodling rather than a specific piece, the captions will say, "[ragtime music playing]" or "[lively jazz playing]".

Many, if not most, shows and movies will now include the lyrics in the captioning whenever the music plays up enough to be an obvious counterpoint to whatever's being said or done on-screen. The Simpsons is really good at this, e.g., the lyrics were captioned to "Mellow Yellow" when Homer got high, they were captioned when Mrs. Lovejoy started playing "In-a-gadda-da-vida" in church, etc.

On the other hand, virtually no TV shows will caption the theme song lyrics nowadays. They used to; check out the DVDs for Mary Tyler Moore as an example. I have no idea if the Barenaked Ladies sing anything to their theme for Big Bang Theory and I would certainly like to know.

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Re: Captions on TCM

PostFri Nov 20, 2015 1:07 pm

Frederica wrote:COLOR! What a great idea! Differing fonts might also work. (One of the great jokes in Asterix vs. the Goths is that the Goths always speak in Gothic Bold.) The background music on this show was identified whenever possible...or wait, maybe it was another show, something that made use of rock/pop tunes. Can't remember now.


Asterix may well have been inspired by Walt Kelly's Pogo comic strip, where different characters often spoke with different style lettering.

Another oddity I've seen on close captioning on television series at times is where it's clear that the captioning was done before the editing of the film was complete, or even all the dialogue recording. I've seen several cases where it's clear that the captioning includes lines of dialogue that ended up being edited out or rerecorded to revise the dialouge.
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Re: Captions on TCM

PostSat Nov 21, 2015 8:12 am

Salty Dog wrote:Another oddity I've seen on close captioning on television series at times is where it's clear that the captioning was done before the editing of the film was complete, or even all the dialogue recording. I've seen several cases where it's clear that the captioning includes lines of dialogue that ended up being edited out or rerecorded to revise the dialouge.


Are you sure that's not paraphrasing? I don't recall seeing captions for excised dialogue, but of course it would be hard for me to tell. On the other hand, paraphrasing used to be used a fair amount of the time in the early days of captioning: you know, the ol' foreign-film-English-subtitle thing, where the actors would spew out 400 words of vitriol and the titles would paraphrase them as, "You cad, sir!" Mel Brooks did a great parody of it in Silent Movie.

Paraphrasing for pre-recorded programming is rare now because standards of quality of captioning have been established that set verbatim captions as the default goal. The exception is live programming where a certain amount of paraphrasing is almost a requirement if the captioning is to be done with a minimum lag time. (This, BTW, is exactly the aspect that I'm involved in right now with Canadian broadcasters and the CRTC.)

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Re: Captions on TCM

PostSat Nov 21, 2015 10:08 am

Jim Roots wrote:
Salty Dog wrote:Another oddity I've seen on close captioning on television series at times is where it's clear that the captioning was done before the editing of the film was complete, or even all the dialogue recording. I've seen several cases where it's clear that the captioning includes lines of dialogue that ended up being edited out or rerecorded to revise the dialouge.


Are you sure that's not paraphrasing? I don't recall seeing captions for excised dialogue, but of course it would be hard for me to tell. On the other hand, paraphrasing used to be used a fair amount of the time in the early days of captioning: you know, the ol' foreign-film-English-subtitle thing, where the actors would spew out 400 words of vitriol and the titles would paraphrase them as, "You cad, sir!" Mel Brooks did a great parody of it in Silent Movie.

Paraphrasing for pre-recorded programming is rare now because standards of quality of captioning have been established that set verbatim captions as the default goal. The exception is live programming where a certain amount of paraphrasing is almost a requirement if the captioning is to be done with a minimum lag time. (This, BTW, is exactly the aspect that I'm involved in right now with Canadian broadcasters and the CRTC.)

Jim


Paraphrasing is a different thing (which I also still see), I am talking about entire sentences removed still in the caption. I wish I could give a specific example, but I can't off the top of my head. But I believe this was always with an ongoing, current TV show, and perhaps in the rush to get the episode out on time, the captioning was done before the final sound edit.
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Re: Captions on TCM

PostSat Nov 21, 2015 3:40 pm

Salty Dog wrote:Paraphrasing is a different thing (which I also still see), I am talking about entire sentences removed still in the caption. I wish I could give a specific example, but I can't off the top of my head. But I believe this was always with an ongoing, current TV show, and perhaps in the rush to get the episode out on time, the captioning was done before the final sound edit.


Okay, not disputing you here because I believe you.

It does seem a curious situation, though. Why? Because most captioning nowadays is done by audio feed to a remote captionist. In other words, the captionist isn't seeing any video, she's typing up the captions based on the audio (and usually a written script if the program is pre-recorded) that is being sent to her via VOIP or Skype. (And, amazingly enough, VOIP is being abandoned already because it is far less reliable a transmission system than Skype is!)

I have a meeting with some of the broadcasters in a couple of weeks and I will make a note to ask them about this.

Thanks for raising a new issue.

Jim

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