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MAG Guide Vol. 9

How to solve caption problems
Closed captions serve a very important function for viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing, as well as for viewers who are learning to read or learning English as a second language. That's why, when occasional problems occur with captions -- such as garbled or misspelled captions, or no captions at all -- you want to solve the problem as quickly as possible. There are several reasons why you might encounter caption problems, some of are within your control and easily remedied. The more you know about how and why caption problems occur, the more you can ensure the quality of your captioning service and avoid problems in the future.

Poor reception
Because reception quality often varies on different channels -- depending on where you live -- captions may be better on some channels than on others. Even slightly poor reception can cause problems with your captions. If you are using an antenna to receive TV reception (with "rabbit ears" or loop indoors or a rooftop antenna), consider subscribing to cable TV (if it's available in your area), which usually results in improved reception.

If the television signal is affected by poor reception, captions can be garbled or white boxes may appear in the captions. Adjust your antenna to reduce "ghosting" (multiple images) in the picture, because the better the picture looks, the better the captions will work. If you subscribe to cable TV, switch to another channel to see if the captions are working properly. Frequently, this problem occurs within the local TV station or cable company, where the signal may be passing through equipment that distorts or erases the caption data. When this occurs, notify the engineering department at your local TV station or cable company.

Captioning problems are often related to equipment, which can be easily adjusted. First, make sure that all cables are securely plugged into each piece of equipment -- including the television set, VCR, cable converter box, set-top decoder or caption-capable TV set -- as well as into the wall outlet. Next, turn everything on to make sure you are receiving a picture on all channels. Remember, captions on channels with poor reception may be garbled.

If you have a TeleCaption II decoder, you may be experiencing problems related to this decoder. TeleCaption II decoders manufactured in 1985, 1986 or early 1987 were not compatible with some forms of copyright protection used on rented videotapes. If you have one of these decoders, you may have trouble seeing captions on videos. TeleCaption II decoders manufactured during this time may also be incompatible with cable scrambling systems. To avoid these problems, you may need to have your decoder modified; check the date on the back of the decoder to determine if this is necessary. To have your decoder modified, you can take it to your retailer or send it to the manufacturer, the National Captioning Institute.

Program source
Sometimes, a program is listed as captioned, but may not be. In such cases, the program probably is captioned, though the captions are being blocked, accidentally stripped or destroyed by the program source's equipment. Luckily, this can easily be corrected by television stations, networks and cable companies. Captioning agencies -- such as the Media Access Group at WGBH -- can send technical information to you or to the program sources that explains how to avoid blocking or stripping captions.

When a home video is labeled as captioned ("CC"), but contains no captions, there may be several explanations. The home video distributor may have mistakenly used an uncaptioned master tape to make copies for home video distribution or is using equipment that strips the captions during the duplication process. When you rent or purchase a home video marked "CC" that turns out to be uncaptioned, you should ask for your money back and let the home video distributor (see list) know.

Captioning agency
Closed captions can contain errors or strange misspellings, which, in most cases, originate from the captioning agency that prepared them.

Live captioning
If you are watching a live program that is being stenocaptioned, occasional errors are unavoidable. Live captions are usually displayed in three lines rolling up from the bottom and are produced by "stenocaptioners" who listen to the show as it airs, typing the words in code on a keyboard.

Stenocaptioners prepare for live programs ahead of time by updating their "dictionaries" with phonetic symbols or "briefs" for anticipated names and places. The symbols are converted into English words by translation software, formatted into caption data and sent over phone lines to be mixed with the video signal. The closed-captioned video signal is then sent to your home via satellite, airwaves or cable. Your decoder changes the data into captions displayed on your screen, all of which happens one to three seconds after a speaker's words are spoken and allows no time to make any corrections. One wrong keystroke by the stenocaptioner or a poorly prepared dictionary can produce a strange combination of letters or syllables.

You can recognize stenocaptioning when there are pauses as the words and phrases paint onto the screen. Some news programs are captioned with a combination of stenocaptioning and "prescripted" captions. The prescripted captions paint on smoothly one row at a time and should contain few, if any, errors. When you see pauses within rows, you know that a stenocaptioner has taken over. Stenocaption errors usually result when the computer combines phonetic information to create a wrong (but similar-sounding) word or phrase; for example: "you brake fast" instead of "your breakfast."

Most responsible captioning agencies require a 99% accuracy rate for real-time captioning, but at 250 words per minute, even the best and most experienced stenocaptioner may make several errors per minute. Watch the network evening news to recognize experienced stenocaptioning. If you are watching garbled real-time captions, but you're sure that poor reception is not creating the problem, the captioning agency may have put an inexperienced person on the air.

Electronic newsroom captioning
Some local newscasts are closed captioned using an electronic newsroom system, which provide automatic captioning based on material typed ahead of time into the teleprompter. Late-breaking news, ad libs and live segments -- such as field reports or weather forecasts -- usually go uncaptioned. These systems occasionally put the wrong captions on a story or roll the captioning too fast. When this occurs, let the station know and tell them how important high-quality, comprehensive captioning is to you.

Off-line captioning
If you are watching a prerecorded program and you see errors or misspellings, you should contact your local TV station or cable company. When a program is taped, and captions can be prepared "off-line," you can expect virtually error-free captioning. Captions should be thoroughly checked and reviewed before broadcast or duplication. It is the captioning agency's responsibility to review its work and ensure high-quality captioning, while it's the responsibility of the producers and networks to monitor the work of their captioning agencies.

Please note that a common symptom of poor reception (or technical problems at the TV station) is when pairs of letters are missing; for example "Good night" might appear as "Good nht." While this may look like a misspelling, it's usually a result of poor reception or a technical glitch, rather than a case of sloppy captioning.

Consumer feedback is crucial
Consumer feedback is important to the television and video industry as they continue to learn to perfect and use captioning technology. The more they hear from you -- the caption-viewing audience -- the more they will become educated and aware of what captioning is all about and how valuable it is to many viewers. You also will need to work with retailers to help them become familiar with the TV sets with built-in captioning features. An open communication process -- combined with patience -- will result in more and better-quality captioning in the future.

If your caption problems originate at the program source -- the network, your local TV station, the cable channel or your local cable company -- let them know. Explain the problem in as much detail as possible, including the time, channel and name of the program.

If the problem is with a home video, write to the distributor -- whose name appears on the video box -- encouraging it to monitor the duplication process more closely and to install quality-control procedures to check captions. Ask your home video storeowner to contact the distributor as well.

If you see quality problems with captions, contact the captioning agency, whose name will appear in the credits at the end of the show. The Media Access Group at WGBH strives to provide the best captioning service possible, and we welcome your feedback (positive or negative) to ensure that we can continue to serve you well.

To solve closed captioning problems, or to provide feedback, contact the following television and cable networks, home video distributors and organizations serving the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities:

Television networks

ABC, Inc.
500 S. Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91521-4551

51 West 52nd Street
New York, NY 10019
(212) 975-4321

Fox Broadcasting Company
P.O. Box 900
Beverly Hills, CA 90213-0900

30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, NY 10112
(212) 664-4444 /

601 Clearwater Park Road
West Palm Beach, FL 33401
(561) 659-4122

1320 Braddock Place
Alexandria, VA 22314
(703) 739-5000

11800 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 575-7000

WB Television Network
4000 Warner Boulevard
Burbank, CA 91522
(818) 954-6000

Cable networks

A&E Network (A&E)
235 E. 45th Street
New York, NY 10017
(212) 661-4500

American Movie Classics (AMC)
200 Jericho Quadrangle
Jericho, New York 11753
(516) 803-4300

Animal Planet
7700 Wisconsin Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20814
(301) 986-0444

Black Entertainment Television (BET)
1235 W Place, NE
Washington, DC 20018
(202) 608-2000

Bravo (BRV)
200 Jericho Quadrangle
Jericho, New York 11753
(516) 803-4500

CNBC, Consumer News and Business Channel
2200 Fletcher Avenue
Fort Lee, NJ 07024
(201) 585-CNBC

One CNN Center
Box 105366
Atlanta, GA 30348-5366
(404) 827-1500

The Cartoon Network
Box 105264
1050 Techwood Drive, NW
Atlanta, GA 30318
(404) 827-1717

Country Music Television (CMT)
2806 Opryland Drive
Nashville, TN 37213
(615) 457-8501

Comedy Central
1775 Broadway
New York, NY 10019
(212) 767-8600

Courtroom Television Network (Court TV)
600 Third Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10016
(212) 973-2800

The Discovery Channel
7700 Wisconsin Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20814
(301) 986-0444

The Disney Channel
3800 W. Alameda Avenue
Burbank, CA 91505
(818) 569-7500

E! Entertainment Television
57500 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036-3709
(323) 954-2400

935 Middle Street, ESPN Plaza
Bristol, CT 06010-7454
(860) 766-2000

Food Network
1180 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10036
(212) 398-8836

1440 South Sepulveda Boulevard
Suite 209
Los Angeles, CA 90067
(310) 286-3800

Headline News
One CNN Center, Box 105366
Atlanta, GA 30348
(404) 827-1500

The History Channel
235 East 45th Street
New York, NY 10017

Home Box Office (HBO/Cinemax)
1100 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10036
(212) 512-1000

The Learning Channel (TLC)
7700 Wisconsin Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20814
(301) 986-0444

Lifetime Television (LIF)
34-12 36th Street
Astoria, NY 11106
(718) 706-3600

1515 Broadway
New York, NY 10036
(212) 258-8000

The National Network (TNN)
1515 Broadway
New York, NY 10036
(212) 258-6000

1515 Broadway
New York, NY 10036
(212) 258-8000

Sci-Fi Channel
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
(212) 408-9100

1633 Broadway
New York, NY 10019
(212) 708-1600

The Travel Channel
2690 Cumberland Parkway, Suite 500
Atlanta, GA 30339
(404) 801-2400

Turner Entertainment Networks
1050 Techwood Drive, NW
Atlanta, GA 30348-5264
(404) 827-1717

USA Networks (USA)
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
(212) 408-9100

1515 Broadway
New York, NY 10036
(212) 258-8000

The Weather Channel
2600 Cumberland Parkway
Atlanta, GA 30339
(404) 434-6800

Home video and DVD distributors

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
PO Box 900
Beverly Hills, CA 90213-0900
(310) 369-3900

A&E Video
(212) 210-1400

Artisan Entertainment
2700 Colorado Avenue
2nd Floor
Santa Monica, CA 90404
(310) 449-9200

Buena Vista Home Entertainment
500 S. Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91521
(818) 560-1000

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment
10202 W. Washington Boulevard
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 244-4000

MGM Home Entertainment
2500 Broadway Street
Santa Monica, CA 90404
(310) 449-3000

Miramax Films Corp.
8439 Sunset Boulevard
Hollywood, CA 90069
(323) 822-4200

National Geographic Home Video
1145 17h Street
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 857-7680

New Line Home Entertainment
116 N. Robertson Boulevard
Suite 400
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(310) 967-6700

PBS Home Video
1320 Braddock Place
Alexandria, VA 22314-1698
(703) 739-5000

Paramount Home Entertainment
5555 Melrose Avenue
Hollywood, CA 90038-3197
(323) 956-5000

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
10202 W. Washington Boulevard
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 244-4000

Touchstone Home Entertainment
500 S. Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91521
(800) 723-4763

Trimark Pictures
4553 Glencoe Avenue
Suite 200
Marina del Rey, CA 90292
(310) 314-2000

USA Films
100 N. Crescent Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
(310) 385-4400

Universal Home Entertainment
70 Universal City Plaza
Universal City, CA 91608
(818) 777-4400 /

Walt Disney Home Video
350 S. Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91521
(818) 295-5200

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
4000 Warner Boulevard
Burbank, CA 91522
(818) 954-6000

National organizations serving people who are deaf and hard of hearing

Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf
3417 Volta Place, NW
Washington, DC 20007
(202) 337-5220 voice
(202)-337-5221 TTY

Association of Late-Deafened Adults
1131 Lake Street, #204
Oak Park, IL 60301
(877) 348-7357 voice/fax
(708) 358-0135 TTY

League for the Hard of Hearing
50 Broadway
New York, NY 10004
(917) 305-7700 voice
(917) 305-7999 TTY
(917) 305-7888 fax

National Association of the Deaf
814 Thayer Avenue
Silver Spring, MD 20910
(301) 587-1788 voice/TTY

National Fraternal Society of the Deaf
1118 South Sixth Street
Springfield, IL 62703
217-789-7429 voice
217-789-7438 TTY

Self Help for Hard of Hearing People
7910 Woodmont Avenue, Suite 1200
Bethesda, MD 20814
(301) 657-2248 voice
(301) 657-2249 TTY

Telecommunications for the Deaf, Inc./TDI
8630 Fenton Street, #604
Silver Spring, MD 20910-3803
(301) 589-3786 voice
(301) 589-3006 TTY

For additional information about closed captioning and how to solve captioning problems, contact us.

Caption Services Description Services NCAM