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Our Captions Are Spoiler-Free

Posted on: 11/24/2015 10:49:53 AM under News 


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.



VITAC Participates in FCC Hosted PEG Roundtable Discussion

Posted on: 11/17/2015 10:14:04 AM under News 


VITAC's VP of Marketing, Heather York speaking at the FCC's roundtable event to discuss closed captioning of PEG programming

Universities and local governments are increasingly making their PEG (Public, Educational, and Government) programming accessible with closed captions. This type of programming can range anywhere from a locally produced talk or magazine show to a city council meeting that is either streamed or broadcast on a local access channel.

VITAC's own VP of Marketing, Heather York, was invited to provide remarks for the second of three sessions at the FCC's roundtable event to discuss closed captioning of public access and governmental programming on Thursday, November 10, 2015.

The event panelists consisted of local government professionals, policy makers, captioning vendors, consumer groups, engineers, and video programmers.

The first session touched on reasons and benefits of captioning PEG programming. The panel featured FCC Deputy Chief of the Disability Rights Office Eliot Greenwald, Deputy Chief of the Disability Rights Section in the Civil Rights Division in the U.S. Department of Justice Amanda Maisels, Executive Director of Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc. (TDI) Claude Stout, and President of the Alliance for Community Media Mike Wassenar.

The second session's focus was best practices for captioning and technical issues for PEG programming. In addition to our own Heather York, panelists featured were Vice President and Deputy General Counsel at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association Diane Burstein, President of LNS Captioning Carol Studenmund, VP of Marketing at 3Play Media Tole Khesin, and Associate Professor and Director of the Technology Access Program at Galludet University Christian Volger.

Heather spoke about realtime captioning, and what PEG channels should consider when hiring a captioning company, and streaming program via Internet Protocol (IP). She touched a bit on the FCC Caption Quality Best Practices, and how programmers should measure quality. She also stated that IP captioning is no longer a challenge.

The third and final session's topic was on how to expand closed captioning of PEG programming. These panelists were President and CEO of Flarean Jason Barnett, Operations and Production Manager at the St. Paul Neighborhood Network Steve Brunsberg, Media Services Manager and Executive Producer for County Cable Montgomery Donna Keating, Executive Director of the National Association of the Telecommunications Officers and Advisors Steve Taylor, and Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator for the Massachusetts State House and member of the Mayor's Commission for Persons with Disabilities in the City of Boston Carl Richardson.

The goal of the event was to promote discussion about benefits of captioning PEG programming and to, "raise awareness of the issues surrounding captioning of public access and governmental programming." You can read more or watch full video of the discussion on the FCC's event page.

VITAC is proud to caption many types of PEG programs in both our offline and realtime departments and is dedicated to helping make it accessible for all. Contact us for more information.



They Said What? Why Caption Style Matters

Posted on: 11/10/2015 11:40:45 AM under News 

   Who said that?

That could be the question you'd be asking throughout the program if a television show or movie has the wrong style of closed captioning without speaker identification. 

Speaker identification, caption style, and placement have a lot to do with readability of captions and the enjoyment for many viewers of TV and movies. 

There are two different styles of captioning, roll-up, and pop. Roll-up is not recommended for most types of offline or prerecorded programming.

When it comes to "pop" captioning, captions appear and disappear, "popping" onscreen, completely synchronous with program audio. These captions tend to contain one or two lines of text that can be placed essentially anywhere on the screen, such as under the specific speaker of the dialogue.

There are then two main styles of "pop" captioning:
  • Pop-on: Captions appear anywhere on screen- top, bottom, left, right, center; dialogue appears below, above or next to the person speaking, while all sound effects and lyrics are placed in the centered position. This is the preferred style for sitcoms, dramas and a movie because it provides the most aesthetically pleasing look, and is the easiest to understand. There is no speaker identification, as the captions placement will indicate the speaker.
  • Pop-Center: All dialogue, sound effects and lyrics appear in a fixed, centered position at the bottom or top of the screen (depending on graphics); change of speaker is often indicated by a dash, and sentences spoken by the same character is "stacked." This style is often required of web-based video. VITAC pop-center captions move up and down.
Some consumers have recently complained that our captions are being moved center only in some online players. If these programs were originally captioned in pop-on style, there is no speaker identification. This means viewers have no idea who is speaking.

If you happen to notice this, please let us know by sending an email to



Don't Forget the Lyrics

Posted on: 11/3/2015 11:33:38 AM under News 

Last week, members of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AG Bell) along with other deaf individuals and advocates filed a Class Action lawsuit against Disney, Fox, Warner Bros., Paramount, Universal, Sony, and Netflix over the lack of captioning and/or subtitling of lyrics of songs in specific movies and television shows.

AG Bell and the other deaf advocates state in the 29-page filing that, "Movies or shows that do not include subtitled song/music lyrics withhold the full enjoyment of the movie or show from the deaf or hard of hearing consumers..."

Just as with detailed sound effect descriptions, lyrics to musical performances and songs playing in the program can be an essential part for full understanding and enjoyment of the show or movie.

One of the main parts of the FCC Caption Quality Best Practices for television is accuracy of captions. Accuracy ensures that captions are verbatim with program audio. This includes song lyrics.

"In order to be accurate, captions must match the spoken words in the dialogue, (English or Spanish), to the fullest extent possible and include full lyrics when provided on the audio track."

AG Bell and the other advocates are also claiming that the practice of not subtitling violates civil rights of persons with physical disabilities to receive "full and equal access" to this programming.

Our offline captioners here at VITAC understand that if a hearing person can hear the lyrics in a program, we caption them. Captioners spend long hours deciphering music that some may consider unnecessary to the story, but our role is not to judge what is and isn't important, but to ensure those who rely on captions have the same experience as someone who can hear the audio.

VITAC will be following this case closely. Stay tuned for more as it develops.



VITAC Behind the Scenes: Realtime Captioner Tricia Clegg

Posted on: 10/27/2015 12:27:11 PM under News 

                         Tricia (right) getting ready to test with a network just moments before a special report. 

What goes on at VITAC behind the scenes? We continue our series focusing on the people that keep the captions on the screen and the business up and running! Our last post focused on Senior Offline Captioner Zack Tolles.

This week, we shift the spotlight to Realtime Captioner Tricia Clegg. All VITAC realtime captioners are highly trained and skilled steno captioners, part of our team of 150, responsible for live captioning over 220,000 hours each year. Realtime captioners must be well-versed in sports, news, and current events and have tons of entries relating to each in their captioning dictionaries. As it is our busiest time of year, we really appreciate Tricia taking the time to answer our questions:

Q: You are a valuable member of our Realtime team. Walk us through a typical day for you in the office (or at home remotely if that's where your'e working!).

Tricia: I work at VITAC HQ for my normal schedule. So my normal day would be to retrieve my [steno] machine, go to an available control room, set up my machine and my connections, and make sure I have all my prep work done needed to start my day. Approximately 15-20 minutes prior to my start time, a production coordinator will come in to test with me and the particular station I have. Every show after that until the end of my shift is similar.

When working at home, I would be prepared with prep work, etc...

Q: What are your favorite parts about working as a Realtime Captioner?

Tricia: My favorite part about being a Realtime Captioner is knowing I have a skill that helps the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. That in itself is gratifying.

Q: What are some of the most challenging parts about your job?

Tricia: Captioning is challenging in the aspect of live television is just that, "live." We have to remain calm and under control no matter what the circumstance, keeping up with the very fast-paced content, and having to "finger spell" (using the steno keyboard to spell a word out one letter at a time) on the fly.

Q: What do you like most about working at VITAC?

Tricia: What I like about working at VITAC is having the ability to work from home [as a realtime captioner].

Q: What do you do in your spare time not spent at VITAC?

Tricia: In my spare time when not at VITAC or working on shows at home, I spend quality time with my family.



VITAC Behind the Scenes: Offline Captioner Zack Tolles

Posted on: 10/20/2015 11:03:00 AM under News 


Senior Offline Captioners Zack Tolles (left) and Cory Meiser hard at work captioning in our Offline department

What goes on at VITAC behind the scenes? We continue our series focusing on the people that keep the captions on the screen and the business up and running! Our last post focused on Realtime Production Coordinator Nick Caldwell.

Today, we turn attention to Senior Offline Captioner Zack Tolles. Our offline captioners are responsible for the transcription and captioning of over 47,000 offline and prerecorded video assets each year, confirming every unique spelling. Zack answered a few questions for us so we can get a feel for a day-in-the-life of one of our offline captioning team members.

Q: You are a valuable member of our offline captioning team. Walk us through a typical day for you in the office.

Zack: Every day starts with clocking in and then checking my email to make sure nothing important was sent during the hours that I wasn't here. Then I check the scheduler to see what I'm going to be working on for the day. After that, it's time to get to work on whichever shoes I'm assigned to for the day.

Q: What are your favorite parts about working in Offline?

Zack: ...I like [working on] cooking shows and being able to [learn and] take mental notes on what professional chefs are doing with food...

Q: What are some of the most challenging parts about your job?

Zack: Some days the workflow and due times feel like it's down to the wire, and that can be challenging when you're making sure that the captions you send out are 100% accurate while completing the assignment in the time we have to get it to the client. There are also days, especially with reality TV, where some shows will inevitably grind on your gears! When four people are in a room fighting and you have to listen to it over and over to hear what one person is actually saying, the drama gets old very quickly.

Q: What do you like most about working at VITAC?

Zack: I've found that a lot of coworkers that I interact with on a daily basis have the same interests as me. There are a lot of people here with backgrounds in literature and history, and everyone seems to be able to find some common ground with each other's interests.

Q: What do you do in your spare time not spent at VITAC?

Zack: My fiancee and I love to cook a lot of food, so every weekend we try to make enough food to bring to work for lunches the next week, as well as delicious dinners. I also play guitar and started making wire-crafted jewelry this year.



Customer Satisfaction Motivation

Posted on: 10/13/2015 2:11:09 PM under News 

VITAC serves over 1,200 clients, large and small, and we're proud to say that all customers are treated with the same dedicated level of customer service.

Every six months, our customers receive an invitation to take our short Customer Satisfaction survey. There, they have a chance to let us know how we're doing, and we take their feedback seriously. Our favorite responses include kudos entered in the optional, "tell us more," section. We've been sharing some of this positive feedback on social media using the hashtag, #MondayMotivation. Here's a preview from recent offline customers:

"VITAC, you are great and you always make me feel like my project is the most important one you have. Every time I need something, you get it done fast and with a smile. The people at VITAC are always friendly and helpful and I can't say enough good things about them. Thank you for what you do to make my job easier!

-TV Network Producer, October 2015

"...They are all extremely responsive, professional, and return captioning files very quickly."

-Government Agency, September 2015


"Thanks so much for all of your help. It's been really great working with you guys!"

-TV Series Producer, September 2015


"Truly top notch support... One of the best vendor experiences I've had in TV."

-TV Network Producer, October 2015


"Love you guys!"

-Corporation, August 2015


Stay tuned on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn!



2015 Pittsburgh Sign-A-Thon

Posted on: 10/6/2015 11:50:00 AM under News 


VITAC Realtime Captioner Linda Frost's Point of View providing CART Services at the 2015 HDS Pittsburgh Sign-A-Thon

The 2015 Pittsburgh Sign-A-Thon was held this past Saturday, October 3rd, at the Mall at Robinson. The Sign-A-Thon is hosted by HDS, the Center for Hearing and Deaf Services, Inc. in Pittsburgh. The event brings together deaf, hard-of-hearing, deafblind, and hearing people to communicate in various ways, showcasing American Sign Language.

Every year, all funds go to help defray the cost of sign language interpreters for small non-profit organizations.

This year's event featured performances by B.E.L.I.E.V.E., Heavenly Hands from Bethany Baptist Church, David and Sally Barnett, Rodney & Friends, and Sarah Clark.

The Animal Rescue League was also there with pets that could be adopted.

VITAC's very own Realtime Captioner Linda Frost volunteered her time to provide CART services for the event. The National Court Reporters Association (NCRA) defines CART services as, "the instant translation of the spoken word into English text using a stenotype machine, notebook computer, and realtime software."

The text produced by the CART service can be displayed on a computer screen, projected onto a larger screen for presentations, combined with a video presentation to appear as captions, or other methods of transmission. At the Sign-A-Thon, the performances and dialog were broadcast on a projector screen.

"I have been reporting/captioning now for a combined 35 years, and Saturday was probably one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had. The final song in the performance was Alabama's 'Angels Among Us,' which brought tears to my eyes," said Linda of her experience.

The Center for Hearing & Deaf Services, Inc. provides a wide range of services for people who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, or have other communication needs. Visit their website for more information.



Captioning Web-Exclusive Shows

Posted on: 9/29/2015 12:04:09 PM under News 


If it airs on television, it must have captions. But what about all those original series from Over The Top (OTT = content delivered via the internet without involvement of a service operator) services like Netflix and Amazon?

For now, the FCC only has purview over programming that airs on TV. Technically, that includes broadcasters and programming/channels distributed by a Multichannel Video Programming Distributor (MVPD = cable and satellite companies). The FCC can require captions on TV and captions online for any program or clip of programming that aired on TV, but as of right now, they can't require that web-exclusive video be captioned.

That could change in the future, as the FCC is considering if and how to address OTT entities like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, but a ruling is not expected any time soon. The following link is the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking where they discuss this issue:

Fortunately, most major OTT providers are captioning everything. Netflix was sued by the National Association for the Deaf under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and as a result, must caption everything. iTunes requires everything delivered to them, whether it aired on TV or not, be captioned. Hulu and Amazon have similar rules.

While web-exclusive videos are not yet required to be captioned, most of the larger OTT providers are captioning and/or working to caption all of their content. We urge everyone to caption web-exclusive videos for accessibility.



Whining About Auto Captions

Posted on: 9/22/2015 10:22:41 AM under News 

We're going to "Whine About" auto captions.

For the past 20 weeks, Buzzfeed Matt's "Whine About It" series has been seemingly everywhere on Facebook. The premise: Matt Bellassai drinks a bottle of wine at his desk and complains about anything and everything. He's brought us such gems as "Things People Do in Public that they Should Do in Private," and his most recent post, "Types of Coworkers that are the Absolute Worst," which we're sure has been shared amongst employees at businesses from coast to coast.

Almost 900,000 people "like" Matt's Facebook page. His last video was shared over 70,000 times. Unfortunately, people who rely on captions are missing out. His Facebook videos are not captioned, and those on YouTube are "auto-captioned," meaning voice recognition software is used to "guess" what is being said. The results would be funny if it wasn't so sad:

What he said: "Hi, everyone, my name is Matt Bellassai."

What the YouTube captions said: "everyone, my name is Matt Ellis Island."

What he said: That's not vintage..."

What the YouTube captions said: "that's not been touched."

Captioning videos on Facebook and YouTube is easy. For YouTube videos, just create a transcript and upload it with the video -- YouTube's timing is much better than their transcription! Facebook requires an SRT file, which can be downloaded from YouTube or created from scratch.

Join us in asking @MattBellassai to caption his videos so they can be enjoyed by all.


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