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Caption Center News

Caption Center News: September 1998

Issue Fifty

Making Movie History
The most lavish ship that ever sailed, an iceberg, James Cameron, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, two hundred million dollars spent, one billion dollars earned (so far) and 11 Oscars. By now everyone knows the real-life tragedy which begot the Hollywood blockbuster which begot a cultural phenomenon. For deaf and hard-of-hearing movie fans, the film was historic for yet another reason. The Paramount Pictures/Twentieth Century Fox presentation Titanic was one of the first movies ever shown with closed captions in a regular movie theater.

Caption viewers have long sought access to first-run feature films and have asked us over the years to repeat our pioneering efforts captioning television to make movie theaters accessible. The challenge has always been to display the captions during the film without altering the experience for the general audience.

A movie poster for the feature film Titanic Enter the CPB/WGBH National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM), the research and development arm of the Media Access division here at WGBH. With funding from the U.S. Department of Education, NCAM worked with consumers and the motion picture and theater industry to develop prototype systems to display closed captions. The Rear Window System, now patented, proved the most popular. Developed by WGBH and inventor Rufus Butler Seder, Rear Window displays reversed captions on a LED panel in the rear of a theater. Deaf and hard-of-hearing patrons use transparent acrylic panels attached to their seats to reflect the captions so that they appear superimposed over the screen. The panels are portable and adjustable, enabling the caption user to sit anywhere in the theater.

Universal Pictures' The Jackal was the first feature film to be closed captioned and Sony Pictures' The Mask of Zorro has just become the third. All three movies were captioned by The Caption Center and described for blind and visually impaired patrons by WGBH's Descriptive Video Service® as part of the Motion Picture Access Project. Funding for both captions and descriptions for Titanic was provided by Paramount Pictures.

Feedback from patrons has been overwhelmingly positive. The General Cinema theaters in Sherman Oaks, California, and Lombard, Illinois, are now equipped with the Rear Window system. General Cinema has been an ardent supporter of the project and expects to have the system available in five additional major markets soon.

Among the other key players making this happen are Digital Theater Systems (DTS), Trans-Lux Corporation and Boston Light and Sound. For more information about the Motion Picture Access Project, including new titles and the latest theater installations, visit NCAM's Web site.

60 Minutes Finds New Audience
An example of 60 Minutes captioned in Spanish Every Sunday evening the clock ticks on screens across the nation as America makes time for television's most respected and consistently highly rated program, 60 Minutes. Now the most successful program in history is the first series to air with simultaneous English and Spanish closed captions.

The Caption Center has a highly trained team of bilingual caption writers who translate each broadcast. Funding for English captioning is provided by CBS, American Express and Ford. Spanish captioning is funded entirely by CBS.

60 Minutes creator and executive producer Don Hewitt has examined ways to reach America's 27 million Hispanic viewers for years. "I'm thrilled to finally be able to say to a large portion of the country, '60 Minutes speaks your language.'"

Closed captions can be opened, or "decoded," through a television's built-in decoder or through a set-top device. Viewers can access captions in televisions with built-in decoders via their remote control and on-screen menus. English captions appear on CC1, Spanish captions appear on CC3.

From the Co-Directors
The Caption Center has opened its doors recently to both clients and consumers interested in how captions are produced for television, multimedia and feature films.

During the national convention of Self Help for Hard of Hearing People, Inc. (SHHH), held in Boston this June, we welcomed over 100 visitors through our production facility for a look at the work behind the words. Judging from the questions asked and the positive feedback we received, the tours were a big success. The same day, we hosted a group of 40 visitors from Japan, a group that included consumers, television professionals and a cadre of interpreters (spoken English to spoken Japanese, spoken Japanese to Japanese sign language and two people with white boards quickly transcribing to written Japanese). We've been talking with Japanese representatives for years and hope they soon will be able to provide more access for that nation's deaf and hard-of-hearing population.

Our Los Angeles facility welcomed clients from the production community to a series of Tech Update sessions throughout the summer. Senior representatives from CBS, NBC, the Fox family of networks as well as studios including Disney, Paramount, USA/Universal and Warner Bros. (Network, International, Cable and Pay TV, Syndication and Record Divisions) visited The Caption Center for briefings on the latest data services. This new term refers both to the increased capabilities of line 21 to carry information in addition to traditional caption data, and to new services enabled by digital formats. Similar briefings will also be held at The Caption Center's Manhattan facility.

Some of the new services introduced at the LA sessions include:

  • dual-field/dual-language captioning
  • new features such as color, paint-on and relocatable styles
  • PAL line-22 global captioning
  • digital services such as DVD captioning and subtitling
  • CD-ROM captioning
  • WebTV Crossover Links (embedded in season-ending Baywatch episodes)
  • Internet program/caption file delivery
  • V-Chip data insertion
  • Feature film closed captioning
  • Audio description, which makes television and videos more meaningful for blind and low-vision viewers

The move from traditional analog to digital formats presents many opportunities, and not a few obstacles to overcome. We've been breaking through access barriers and creating new opportunities for 26 years now. However, the speed at which technology is developing necessitates a concerted effort to keep both the industry and consumers up-to-date of the latest strides made in our field.

This made the recent announcement from Encyclopaedia Britannica's new free Internet Guide (eBig) particularly rewarding. The eBig judges labeled The Caption Center's Web site as "Recommended"- one of only 15% of tens of thousands of sites researched and the only captioning agency to receive that rating. Our Web site was cited for providing clear information about captioning for both consumers and the industry.

Let us know if you'd like further information about our current initiatives.

Tom Apone                            Lori Kay

FCC Sets Captioning Mandates
The Telecommunications Act brought about many changes for the broadcast and cable industries. The act also charged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to survey the landscape of accessible television and to create mandates to gradually increase the amount of captioned programs.

After providing an opportunity for consumers and the television industry to offer opinions, the FCC published its final Report and Order on Closed Captioning.

We summarized the 148-page ruling, and outlined the most important points for those who must comply (see below for a preview). We have also published a new issue of our Consumer Information Series for caption viewers, "Federal Captioning Mandates, What They Are and What They Mean to You." Both are available upon request and can also be downloaded from our Web site. The original ruling can be found at the FCC's Web site.

  • The FCC set separate schedules for captioning new vs. old programs and defined new programs as those which are published or exhibited on or after January 1, 1998. These must be captioned over an eight-year period.

  • Old or pre-rule refers to programs published or exhibited before January 1, 1998. Seventy-five percent of older programs must be captioned over a ten-year period.

  • All program distributors (networks, cable operators, direct broadcast satellite providers, wireless cable operators, etc.) are required to pass through captioned programs with the captions intact.

The FCC did not set standards for accuracy and quality- grammar, spelling, etc. However, the FCC will monitor all aspects of implementation of the captioning rules, including quality of captions, and may set standards at a later date.

...And Now For Something Completely Different
Monty Python's Flying Circus  captioned for the first time The Caption Center has been associated with several "firsts" over the years, but we've really done it this time. Monty Python's Flying Circus is now captioned for the first time thanks to the U.S. Department of Education's Syndicated Programming grant and the American Program Service (APS, the series' distributor).

Now deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers can finally enjoy the series which has a permanent spot on the short list of the funniest programs in television history. Monty Python's Flying Circus is now airing on public television stations nationwide (viewers should check local listings for dates and times).

The series introduced a new brand of humor to television audiences all over the world when it debuted in the early '70s. Each half-hour episode is made up of short sketches, songs, animation, physical comedy and other antics that are so hilariously bizarre that they are difficult to describe.

The surviving members of the group (Graham Chapman has since passed away) signed off on The Caption Center's involvement in captioning the landmark series.

APS is a major source of programs for public television stations and is known for identifying innovative programs and developing creative techniques for their distribution.

A&E Captions Two Signature Series
A&E, one of the nation's highest-rated cable networks, has contracted with The Caption Center to make two popular series accessible for the first time.

Biography This Week spotlights people whose contributions are made topical by current events and trends. Among those profiled recently: Bill Gates and John Wayne, in the news again as our fascination with war movies was reignited by Saving Private Ryan.

Investigative Reports, hosted by Bill Kurtis, provides an in-depth look at the causes and effects of a wide range of national and international social issues each week.

Captioning of Biography This Week and Investigative Reports is funded by the U.S. Department of Education and A&E.

HGTV Now Even More Inviting
Home & Garden Television (HGTV), launched in 1994, is now the nation's fastest- growing cable network. Its lineup offers an array of how-to programs, ideal for a nation of do-it-yourselfers.

Paul James Home Grown Cooking features master gardener Paul James showing viewers how to grow and cook produce from the garden.

The Carol Duvall Show showcases America's #1 crafts expert and her celebrity guests demonstrating projects ranging from creating dolls and decorative boxes to stained glass and stamping.

Captioning of Paul James Home Grown Cooking is underwritten by the U.S. Department of Education and HGTV; The Carol Duvall Show is funded entirely by HGTV.

Working with Microsoft on Access Solutions
Encarta98, the CD-Rom encyclopedia with captions The Caption Center has worked closely with Microsoft to develop and refine tools for creating accessible Web-based multimedia. This year, multimedia clips on the world's best- selling CD-ROM encyclopedia, Encarta98, are accessible via captions for the first time. And Microsoft is committed to forging a broader degree of access for its products from now on.

Among the most important advances is the Synchronized Accessible Media Interchange format, or SAMI. SAMI provides a means of synchronizing caption data with digital media, a major breakthrough as audio, video and animation become more common on Web sites (a growing source of frustration for deaf and hard-of-hearing users). SAMI can be used by webmasters and others seeking to make sites accessible to the entire audience.

Brad Botkin, director of systems development for The Caption Center, has been an important member of the development team. Brad was the liaison between Microsoft's Accessiblity Program staff and The Caption Center on the Encarta captioning project and continues work perfecting SAMI with Microsoft's development staff. Those interested in seeing SAMI in action can visit Microsoft's Web site.

Brad is also chairman of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers' (SMPTE) Committee on Multimedia, Working Group for Captions/Subtitles, spearheading efforts to develop a standard file format for the interchange of multimedia-bound caption and subtitle data. The Caption Center will keep you apprised of developments in this rapidly advancing field in the days ahead.

Corporate Support of Captioning
Annette Posell of the Caption Center Advertisers are an essential component in the traditional caption funding partnership. While the U.S. Department of Education is still the major source of caption funding, a good deal of captioning today is made possible by corporate support. Corporate contributions supplement or match those allotted by a program's producer and its distributor (i.e., the broadcast or cable network or syndicator).

Annette Posell's involvement with The Caption Center began in 1978, while participating in an early project exploring the use of captions as an educational tool for deaf and hard-of- hearing children. In subsequent years, she became widely known in the television industry as she introduced the concept of advertiser sponsorship of captions for network television to the advertising community.

Currently manager of corporate development, Annette also serves as the liaison between The Caption Center and its Advisory Board, a group of senior executives and television industry experts who help foster and develop captioning policies in broadcasting, cable and home video.

Annette became deaf at the age of 16 and is an outspoken advocate for the rights of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. Here she answers the most frequently asked questions about captioning from the corporate community.

Why do corporations fund captioning?

Companies have signed up because of a personal connection to hearing loss- a family member or a close friend cannot understand TV unless it's captioned. Others have chosen certain programs to sponsor as part of a larger marketing plan; e.g., while Bart Simpson served as Butterfinger's spokesperson, Nestlé served as The Simpsons' corporate caption sponsor. Many companies sign up simply because the price is right and it's the right thing to do.

How do companies benefit from caption sponsorship?

Corporate contributions toward captioning on most national programs are recognized in an on-air, closed-captioned credit on each program episode. Open credit is becoming increasingly more available to caption sponsors of local, cable or syndicated programs. Regardless of the venue, funder credits are noticed by the caption-viewing audience. These viewers appreciate and patronize companies which pay to caption their favorite TV shows.

How can corporations get involved?

There are two vehicles for corporate caption involvement. The easiest, most obvious and least expensive is to caption all televised advertising. Chances are the spots air amid captioned programs where the audience is already in place. Non-captioned ads are wasted on millions of deaf and hard-of-hearing customers.

The Caption Center maintains a list of programs available for corporate caption sponsorship. The forthcoming TV season offers a wide array including network primetime series, children's cable shows and sports programs.

A round of applause...

On behalf of the caption viewing audience, we extend a big thank-you to the civic-minded, community-spirited companies which have made incredible contributions toward captioning over the past 25 years.

Please see the special insert in this issue of Caption Center News for a list of The Caption Center's funding partners.

Contact Annette at The Caption Center's Boston office for more information on sponsoring captioning of specials and series. For information related to captioning ads, call Susan Schneider at The Caption Center/New York.

Caption Center News Extra
Investing in Access
The U.S. Department of Education has for many years awarded grants, called cooperative agreements, which serve as seed money to help grow the captioning service. The Caption Center currently administers five of these grants, and leverages additional funds from the private sector- corporations, production companies, broadcast and cable networks (see list on back)- which stretch government dollars and provide even more captioned programs. Many programs originally captioned with federal funds are now funded solely by the private sector. And as programs are reversioned for syndication and home video, minor reformatting costs keep programs accessible, furthering the return on investment to both the government and private sector and keeping a grateful audience tuned in. Here's a glimpse of the news, educational and entertainment programs captioned through this successful partnership.

National News and Public Affairs Programming

The Charlie Rose program with captions Administration of the News and Public Affairs Programming captioning grant was first awarded to The Caption Center in 1990. Fox Network's Fox Files and Investigative Reports on A&E recently joined 24-hour breaking news coverage and regularly scheduled broadcasts from network partners CBS, NBC and PBS. Thanks to The Caption Center's grant administration, caption viewers can start their day with Katie and Matt, get an evening report and analysis of events with Jim Lehrer or Dan Rather and later on, check in with Charlie Rose as he interviews artists and newsmakers.

Department of Education funds: $1.2 million (65%)
Private-sector contributions: $638,510 (35%)

Children's Programming

The Caption Center administers the Children's Programming award, which funds captioning of PBS favorites such as Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and Wishbone, Nickelodeon's Rugrats, Secret World of Alex Mack and the groundbreaking Nick News, the entire Fox Kids Network lineup (including Goosebumps and Bobby's World), Fox Family Channel offerings such as Magic Adventures of Mumphie and perennial NBC favorites Hang Time and Saved by the Bell: New Class.

Department of Education funds: $390,000 (61%)
Private-sector contributions: $245,927 (39%)

Syndicated Programming

The Andy Griffith Show with captions The Caption Center's administration of the Syndicated Programming award has over the years brought such classics as M*A*S*H, I Love Lucy, Hill Street Blues and the early seasons of Saturday Night Live to caption viewers for the very first time. Most recently we captioned Lost in Space, The Andy Griffith Show, The Brady Bunch and Monty Python's Flying Circus, and this summer we're hard at work captioning Dragnet, Here's Lucy, Wonder Woman and Medical Center.

Department of Education funds: $500,000 (81%)
Private-sector contributions: $120,675 (19%)

Movies, Miniseries and Specials

The Movies, Miniseries and Specials award allows The Caption Center to make a wide array of both broadcast network and cable programming accessible. Funds from this grant have contributed to captioning Nicholas' Gift, 33rd Annual Country Music Awards and The Last Don II (all on CBS), 55th Annual Golden Globe Awards and Garth in Dublin (on NBC), Jane Eyre (on A&E) and Beyond T. Rex (on Discovery) as well as programs for network partners Lifetime, Sci-Fi Channel, Turner Entertainment Network and USA Network.

Department of Education funds: $300,00 (49%)
Private-sector contributions: $306,140 (51%)

Daytime Programming

The Caption Center has just learned that the Daytime grant, first awarded to The Caption Center in 1995, has been renewed for another three-year cycle. A range of programs geared to diverse audiences and covering topics from home building, decorating and cooking to traveling, computer technology and the Internet are captioned on PBS and for cable partners Bravo, Discovery, FX, Home & Garden Television, The Learning Channel, Lifetime, MTV: Music Television, Sci-Fi Channel, The Travel Channel, VH-1 and, airing in syndication nationwide, B. Smith with Style.

Department of Education funds: $258,000 (93%)
Private-sector contributions: $18,425 (7%)

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