VITAC’s Realtime Captioners and Coordinators: Golden

As the Olympics Wind Down, We Thank our Realtime Department

Our last post focused on VITAC’s preparation for captioning the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, nearly doubling our daily volume across at least seven different NBC Universal-owned networks, five live Multi-Distribution System feeds, and multiple web channels. The games come to an end this Sunday, and wrap up with the Closing Ceremony. This week, we just want to take some time to show our appreciation for our Realtime staff for helping make these Olympic games accessible for over 50 million Americans who rely on closed captions.


Opening Up

It all began Friday night, August 5th with our captioning coverage of the Opening Ceremony and the Parade of Nations. The Opening Ceremony was a tribute to the creation and discovery of the Olympics host country, Brazil and featured native performers, stunning projections, and acrobatic choreography from the minds of those at Cirque du Soleil. The second part of the ceremony gave a unique view and focus to the environment and climate change.

VITAC was fully prepared and captioned the show beautifully! All of the song lyrics and some of the show’s dialog was in Brazil’s national language, Portuguese, which we cannot translate live into English captions, so music notes and [ SPEAKING IN PORTUGUESE ] were common throughout the program.  NBC’s commentary was of course in English, but there were a few Portuguese words that they mentioned, including “caipirinha,” Brazil’s national cocktail, flawlessly captioned and spelled correctly!

A Little Help from Our Friends

With all of these Portuguese words being used in the English commentary throughout the Olympic games, one of our captioner’s relatives assisted in an out-of-the-box way.

VITAC Realtime captioner Jessica Bewsee’s daughter, Melody Chapin, is a Fullbright scholar, fluent in Portuguese and offered to record herself saying some of the names of venues, athletes, and commonly-used Portuguese words.

Our realtime captioners “write” what they hear phonetically on their steno pads. There are words that we know how to pronounce in English by the way they are spelled, but are completely different in Portuguese.

For example, one of the four main zones that the Olympics will take place in is pronounced BA-HA. In actuality, it is spelled, Barra. If a captioner was going off of a roster for preparation, Barra looks like it would be pronounced BEAR-UH or BAR-UH, and they could likely miss the connection during broadcast. Conversely, if a commentator makes reference to Barra during the Olympics, there’s a chance that a captioner could have written it as Baja if they hadn’t prepared! Melody pronounces it BA-HA in the video, and this text to audio link fills in the final gaps for our captioners.

“This is the main challenge of live captioning… Receiving a roster for a game or a list of venues can be almost worthless because what we see is nothing like it is pronounced,” affirms VITAC Realtime Captioner Suzanne Hagen.

Bling Count

In addition to ensuring our captioners are ready, prepped, testing connections, and monitoring caption feeds, our Realtime production coordinators go even a little further past the finish line and assist with preparation material. Every hour or so, they are responsible for updating the “Medal sheet”.  After events have concluded and medals have been awarded, the coordinators record the name of each athlete and whether they won gold, silver, or bronze. They then send the updated sheets to the Olympic captioners, so they are prepared if the NBC commentators mention Ukranian Track and Field star Bohdan Bondarenko, in case he medals in the men’s high jump this evening.

Wrapping Up

Our coordinators and captioners are just as busy preparing for the closing ceremony as they were preparing for the opening ceremony, all while performing their regularly scheduled duties, and their Olympic work.

A heartfelt thank you to all who have made this event a huge success so far. We appreciate your hard work, dedication, and overtime hours!

While the closing ceremony will air at 7:00 PM Sunday night, stay tuned to NBC and its affiliates for the rest of every “golden” moment this week. Check out NBC’s Olympics site for the full television schedule, and be sure to take a page out of comedian Leslie Jones’s book and turn the captions on!

By Brittany Bender

Bilingualism on Live Television: a Captioner’s Perspective

VITAC Captions Speeches That Transition Between English and Spanish at the DNC

Karla Otriz speaks Spanish at DNC

As most of us are already well aware thanks to TV, social media, and the dinner table, the election season for most Americans is one of interest, excitement, hope, and sometimes frustration. For a closed captioning company, it is no different, except there is the added pressure of overlapping speakers in debates, political commentators vying for their three second talking point, and most recently, rapid transition between languages in national speeches.

This year’s Democratic National Convention brings an interesting challenge for those behind the steno machines. The democratic candidate for Vice President, Tim Kaine, is fluent in Spanish and has made multiple speeches thus far flipping between that and his first language, English.  In addition, on the first night of the DNC on Monday, multiple speakers also spoke Spanish and English in their addresses. They transitioned between one and the other seamlessly without much warning of transition. Some of the times, the speaker spoke in Spanish and translated their phrases into English as well. Other times, the Spanish was standalone, and there was no accompanying translation.

For the folks here at VITAC and those across the captioning industry that are responsible for accurate coverage of these events, the bilingualism presents a unique challenge. A caption industry veteran, Carol Studenmund, took to social media to address this very subject:

Facebook Post from Carol Studenmund

We reached out for comment and approval, and she said, “I was surprised by how many people thought someone would just peer over my shoulder and whisper in my ear and translate whatever was being said or ask “’why don’t we just have Spanish translators type it in?'”

A stenocaptioner is either trained in English or Spanish.   Even if one knows both theories, it is not possible to switch on the fly to another language during events that are captioned liveWe went to the source and asked some of our own realtime experts how they would handle the situation. Our realtime trainer, Karla Ray, confirmed Carol’s guess in her post and said that this issue had recently come up in reference to the current political events! She said they have told their captioners that “when Senator Tim Kaine starts speaking Spanish, use [Speaking Spanish ] when switching from English to Spanish in the same sentence or middle of speeches.” The approach allows for a captioner to quickly address what is being said and maintain accuracy during the event.

Tim Kaine speaking Spanish at nomination event

This is not the first time the National Convention stage has been an outlet for bilingualism. This article from NPR written during the 2012 convention highlights both party’s use of the two languages to accommodate the constantly shifting cultural landscape in America.

As the convention continues, and the campaign trail heats up in light of the approaching Election Day in November, it will be interesting to watch how the use of these two languages plays a role in both parties. We know that we, as well as our captioners, will be watching with interest, a smidge of anxiousness, and hyper-focused attention. Wish us all luck!


By: Tori Trimm

Caption Screenshots: Fact or Faked?

Closed Captioning Snips Are Usually Edited


While funny closed captioning screenshots give many people a good chuckle while scrolling through their Twitter feed, it’s important to realize that some, or even most, of these photos are in fact, fake.

How do we know?

It’s standard practice here at VITAC to not imply or interject any sort of opinion into our captions. It’s our job to present information verbatim in offline captioning, and as verbatim as possible with realtime captioning.

For example:

Closed Captioning: Unintelligible yelling pic is fake

This photo made its Internet rounds shortly after a Republican Primary debate. There were even articles about with headlines such as “Closed Captioner Fed Up”.

“We’re very careful not to ever kind of insert our judgment or any of our opinion, so if we have to put up a parenthetical, it would be something like ‘overlapping speakers’ or maybe ‘inaudible.’  We’d never write ‘unintelligible.’  We just wouldn’t do that,” said our very own Manager of Realtime Captioner Training, Amy Bowlen on WNYC’s The Takeaway.

And while captioning does have to get rather creative and descriptive for sound effects and music, it’s not our job to provide commentary.

Here’s another photo that is making its rounds on social media from a program that aired in the UK:

talking bollocks

A captioner’s job is to write what is being said. This photo was most likely edited with the text added in.

So next time you see an online article pointing out the “most hilarious” closed captioning moments, realize that at VITAC, our captioners may have had to get imaginative with their descriptions of sound, or in the case of realtime captioning, point out that speakers were overlapping or inaudible, but never insert their own judgments or beliefs into programming.

By Brittany Bender

All-Caps Captioning


We promise we’re not shouting at you!

All live captioning, such as that you see for news and sports, must be captioned in all capital letters in order to retain the speed at which realtime captioners are required to caption. Often we get the complaint from viewers that because our realtime captions are in all caps that we’re yelling at them.

This is not the case! It is our expert opinion that writing captions in sentence case would sacrifice caption accuracy and synchronicity. Consider the following:

Captioning is done phonetically. Our realtime captioners listen to what is being said on their audio lines and write what they hear, verbatim. There are many words in the English language that sound identical, but when the first letter of the word is capitalized, mean two completely different things. The captioner will have to choose between which version of a word to write, the capitalized version or un-capitalized version. While the audio lines the captioners listen to are slightly ahead of the broadcast audio, in the time it takes to decide which form of the word to write, captions inevitably will fall behind, delaying caption synchronicity.

Accuracy of the captions will also be affected, as the delay will cause the captioner to fall behind, unintentionally omitting words, phrases, and sentences.

Some examples:

  • Names that are also common words. Captioners have a dedicated keystroke for “MARK“. If they had to write in sentence case, they’d have to decide which to use – Mark (name), Marc (name), or mark (mark on the wall). “Mark and Marc made their mark on the company,” would take some serious concentration!
  • Captioners will have to decide whether to use capitalized or un-capitalized versions of “street,” “boulevard,” or “drive. Example: The speaker says, “I walked down the street,” versus “I walked down Magnolia Street.”


There are many other words that would be affected as well, such as the above, “CITY.” What if the speaker were referring to Kansas City? In sentence case, that would require extra time for the captioner to mentally process which keystroke to use.
Please note that VITAC can and does caption prerecorded programming in mixed case at the request of the client, as this type of captioning is not done at 300 words per minute! We’re dedicated to caption quality, and one of the best ways to ensure this when it comes to realtime captioning is to keep it all uppercase.
By Brittany Bender


Our Captions Are Spoiler-Free

While examples will be discussed, no spoilers here! Don’t worry! In today’s internet age, it’s almost impossible to avoid spoilers of your favorite television series. If you missed an episode, you had better stay off social media until you’re caught up, unless you want one of your friends to ruin the ending, or to give away an important plot point you’d been waiting for weeks to be resolved.

Even if you watch every single episode as it airs on television, there are still hundreds of thousands of people who dedicate themselves to finding spoilers to share with those who want to know ahead of time. There are entire blog sites and tumblr pages that are filled with the most popular shows’ endings, and loose ends, so you don’t even have to watch the show!

One place viewers shouldn’t have to worry about spoilers is the closed captions.

One of the most popular shows on television today is undoubtedly AMC’s The Walking Dead. Based on Robert Kirkman’s black and white comic book series, the television show has taken its fans on quite the emotional roller coaster ride over the past five years.

A few weeks ago, two characters on the show remained unaccounted for in Season 6, Episode 4, “Here’s Not Here.” A few closed caption viewers alleged via Twitter that a person’s off-screen voice was identified and gave away that one of those characters were in fact, alive. We decided to further investigate this claim…

Screenshot of the show’s captions, edited to avoid spoiling it for those who aren’t caught up! 

While the character was identified in the closed captioning, was it indeed a spoiler? It depends.

In’s show recap of the episode, the person is identified. That means that the voice should have been recognizable to the hearing community, so it was identified in the closed captions to give everyone the same viewing experience.

Just two episodes later, caption viewers alleged a weak voice on a walkie-talkie at the end of “Always Accountable,” was identified as the voice of the other aforementioned unaccounted-for character in the closed captions, and therefore proved that person was indeed, alive. There were again, tweets stating this and even blog posts. (SPOILER! Unless you’re caught up with TWD, do not click!)

We decided to also investigate this claim:
This character was not identified as the character in the closed captions! Any screenshots of the character’s name were manufactured, and claims are false. The person was simply identified as “Man on walkie.” The voice was not to be recognizable, so no actual spoiler here!

Offline captioners must be careful of these types of speaker identification when working on series such as this. It could greatly offend a fan of a show if anything’s given away that shouldn’t be.

At VITAC, our offline department is extremely cautious about this. We make sure we don’t take away from anyone’s experience!

Supervisor of Offline Training Brendan McLaughlin gave us some great examples of times VITAC was cautious not to give away any caption spoilers:

  • “In an episode of Ben 10… Ben’s grandfather, we normally ID’d Ben’s grandfather as Max. At the beginning of one episode, however, the grandfather entered a diner wearing a large hat and a high-collared trench coat which covered his face. He spoke a couple of sentences, and rather than using the ‘Max” ID, we chose to rely only on the double carets… (>>). Once he revealed who he was, we went back to the standard Max ID for the rest of the episode.
  • “In United States of Tara, Tara suffered from dissassociative identity disorder. For that series, we established a guideline that if Tara transitioned into a character that we already knew, we’d give her a descriptor with the character’s name, such as [ As Buck ], but if the audience had never met the character, we would use a more generic descriptor until Tara identified the character for us…”

Even in reality cooking shows, our captioners are careful not to spoil the winners before they’re announced.

Even though it’d only be considered a spoiler for a few seconds, we might caption something like, “The winner is Chef…” And only after the dramatic pause, caption their name.

“It’s important to caption the ellipses and not put the name directly after to build the suspense of who they are going to say,” says Senior Offline Captioner Kiley Gold.

So the next time you’re viewing a VITAC-captioned series on television, or maybe even binge-watching it, you can be assured that you can enjoy those captions spoiler-free.

By Brittany Bender

VITAC’s Offline Department: Spelling Confirmation Specialists

Our offline department captions over 57,000 prerecorded programs per year for countless networks, independent producers, and web series. With so many different proper names, terms, and places, our offline captioners have their plates full with keeping track of it all.

For example, we’ve received several inquiries from the dedicated fan base of the long-running series, Supernatural. VITAC has captioned the show since its first episode, and it’s hard to believe season 11 is airing this Fall! One of the characters’ names on the show is Castiel. The issue arises when other characters call him by his nickname. Is it spelled “Cas,” or “Cass“? While there are entire websites dedicated to this issue, how do we know it’s spelled “Cass,” and to caption it that way?

The answer is our VITAC treatment sheets! For every program, no matter how short, long, or how big or small the client, each show gets its own personal spelling confirmation sheet.

When a program is captioned for the first time, the captioner assigned to the show builds the treatment sheet, confirming every unique name, place, and term. The sheet is then utilized throughout the life of the series to guarantee consistency.

This may require some extensive research by the offline captioners. However, because not every bit of information for some of these shows is listed on the web, it’s ideal when our customers send us lists of proper names, places and unique terms, or even entire scripts of the program. In this case, that’s how we’re sure of how we spell Castiel’s nickname on Supernatural!

Sending along this type of preparation material is also a part of the FCC Caption Quality Best Practices for Video Programmers, as they are to… “To the extent available, provide captioning vendors with advance access to preparation materials such as show scripts, lists of proper names (people and places), and song lyrics used in the program, as well as to any dress rehearsal or rundown that is available and relevant.” This also applies for realtime captioning.

VITAC is committed to providing quality captions. Our offline department goes the extra mile to make sure captions are accurate and that everyone has the same viewing experience, whether they’re watching the programs with captions or not.

Captioning Complications, Causes, and Correction

Millions of Americans utilize closed captions every day. In addition to providing equal access to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, they’re used in public establishments such as airports, restaurants, bars, and gyms.Realtime captions are created by skilled steno captioners on live events, such as the news, or sporting events.

According to the FCC Caption Quality Best Practices, any prerecorded programming must have prerecorded captions, and these captions are created well in advance of the program’s first broadcast on television.

VITAC complies with all FCC Caption Quality Best Practices for accuracy, synchronicity, completeness, and placement.

But what should you do if you see errors in your closed captioning hindering your experience and understanding of the program?

If you’re seeing no captions (and you know you’ve turned them on), garbled captions (strange characters and misspellings), delayed captions, or captions dropping off in the middle of sentences, this could very well be a transmission error. Another type and most common transmission-related error is called a paired error. This occurs when two letters or characters are dropped out in repeated intervals.

During some programs, errors aren’t as severe and it’s still easy to figure out the context:




But with others, it’s nearly impossible:




A great example of this was in the recent GOP Presidential debate, where to most of the country, the captions appeared error-free, as they were written. However, wherever the author of this article was watching, they appeared with pairing and transmission problems: technical errors, not mistakes of the captioner, on who the mistakes were erroneously blamed.

If one of these issues is occurring, contact your Video Programming Distributor(VPD) – cable provider, broadcaster, or satellite provider immediately, as it is their responsibility to ensure that captions pass through correctly. Their captioning contact will be located somewhere on your cable bill or listed online here.

For any non-immediate closed captioning issue, you may also file a written complaint with your VPD, or directly with the FCC.

While full-length IP-delivered content must be captioned if it aired on television, content on Subscription Video-On-Demand services such as Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, and Hulu are not yet required by the FCC to include closed captions. However, Netflix and iTunes content must be captioned in order to be on that SVOD‘s library.

If you’re experiencing any problems with captioning on this type of programming, please email and we’ll be glad to assist you!

We are also happy to help with or point you in the right direction to solve any other caption troubles! Click here to access the contact info you can report a viewer concern to.

A Horse of a Different Color…er… Spelling


When American Pharoah became the first Triple Crown winner since 1978 last week, he made history in more ways than one. In addition to becoming the most famous horse in the world, he also changed the closed captioning of one particular word forever: “Pharaoh.”

It was a popular news story when it first broke: how American Pharoah’s owners misspelled “Pharaoh,” on some official paperwork. There was an internet contest held to name the horse, and allegedly, the winning entrant was the one that spelled the name incorrectly. There’s some controversy surrounding the mistake, but regardless, the horse will forever be known as American Pharoah.

Since the horse has most likely reached Secretariat’s fame level, he will be referred to in the media for years to come. Our realtime captioners now must be extra careful when they phonetically write “Pharaoh,” (ancient Egyptian ruler, SNL cast member) or “Pharoah” (prize-winning horse) on their steno machines!

The combo will be added to every captioner’s list of homonyms requiring different keystroke combinations: hear/here, they’re/there/their, and Smith/Smyth. (There are a lot of NHL players with both names!) This will probably be a staple of sports captioning dictionaries for a very long time.

Our offline department is also affected by the spelling error! Any treatment sheet they create for programs referring to horse racing must always include American Pharoah.

Not only was the incorrect spelling trending on social media, but it was certainly “trending” here at VITAC as well! One seemingly tiny mistake has made a pretty big impact, at least when it comes to captioning!

What Do Frame Rates Mean in a Digital Age?

Frame rate is the measure of how many frames of a video file display every second, which determines the smoothness of a video’s playback. Very old video games had frame rates of 6 frames per second (FPS), and appear choppy compared to modern video games that have frame rates upwards of 125 FPS.

You may have heard about when The Hobbit director Peter Jackson filmed An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug in high frame rate, using 48 frames per second (FPS) instead of the cinema standard of 24. There was considerable outcry caused by doubling the frame rate, and critics of the new technology reported that the film appeared too lifelike and removed them from the traditional viewing experience they expected.

A program’s frame rate plays an important role in how a show is captioned, since captions associate with particular frames and must match the program audio. Standard frame rates for traditional TV and movies include the following:

29.97 frames per second (dropframe) — This standard, used for many TV productions, is essentially 30 frames per second except for once every tenth minute, when two frames are “dropped.” Really, the frame count just skips over them and no frames of video are actually lost.

24 FPS — This is the standard used for most film productions.

25 FPS — This is the European standard for video.

Digital files have frame rates, just like traditional films and TV programs. Unlike physical film formats, a digital frame rate can be easily manipulated with video editing software. The frame rates for WMV, AVI, and FLV files are generally “unconstrained,” which means they can be modified to nearly any frame rate the user desires.

VITAC handles all frame rates and video types. For more information about our offline captioning capabilities, please click here.

SMPTE-TT: What Is It, and How Does It Work?

SMPTE-TT is an increasingly popular caption file type due to the growing demand for accessible web video. But what is it exactly?

SMPTE-TT is an XML-based caption codec that is popular because of its conformity to W3C standards and superior flexibility to DFXP/TTML profiles. The acronym SMPTE-TT stands for “Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers – Timed Text,” which correctly qualifies the codec as a mainstay for professional video engineers.

Why is it so great? It is closely related to DFXP/TTML profiles (the terms “DFXP” and “TTML” are often used interchangeably), which were designed by the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium). Every profile has different features, such as the #direction feature, which allows left-to-right or right-to-left display of captions, the latter being for languages that are read right-to-left, of course. SMPTE-TT has several additional extensions, however, that were not available in DFXP/TTML, including: #image, #data, and #information. 

1. #image — This feature allows bitmap images to be displayed, such as subtitles (.png format only).

2. #data — The data feature allows the player to pass CEA-708 data (the standard for captioning digital TV) through to the video player, as well as CEA-608 data (the line-21 standard for broadcast TV captioning).

3. #information — This feature tells the player whether to display the caption data with the original look and feel (preserve mode) or to  take advantage of the more advanced display capabilities (enhance mode).

SMPTE-TT allows captions to include some attributes traditionally associated with subtitles, including foreign-alphabet characters and some mathematical symbols. Additionally, DFXP/TTML don’t support some of the positioning capabilities of CEA-608 data. The FCC has declared SMPTE-TT a “safe harbor interchange and delivery format” that complies with CVAA regulations.

For more information on delivering your content as SMPTE-TT, please contact

by Carlin Twedt