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Posted on: 3/25/2015 11:04:20 AM
The year was 1986. Heart's "These Dreams" was the number one song on the charts, "The Cosby Show" was America's favorite sitcom, and VITAC was founded to provide closed captioning as CaptionAmerica to one local news client in Pittsburgh.
This month, we celebrate our 29th anniversary. A lot has certainly changed over the years, including our name! We changed it to VITAC in 1993 to stand for Vital Access, referring to access to media services for everyone.
We've also grown significantly since then. In addition to our original realtime captioning services, we offer offline captioning, Spanish offline and realtime captioning, captioning for the web, subtitling, and multi-language subtitling in over 45 languages. We caption over 220,000 realtime hours and over 28,000 offline hours every year and counting! VITAC also now employs 330 of us at our headquarters in Canonsburg, PA, in our Los Angeles, CA office, and remotely all over the country.
Here's to 29 wonderful years, and many more to come!
Posted on: 3/17/2015 4:21:22 PM
Get your brackets ready and hope your team doesn't get upset! VITAC
is captioning the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament on truTV, TBS and TNT!
The tournament kicked off with our captions on truTV on St. Patrick's Day when Hampton defeated Manhattan and Ole Miss advanced over BYU. Coverage continued Wednesday night when Dayton knocked off Boise State to move into the tournament and Robert Morris beat North Florida to advance for a game against number 1 seed, Duke.
The round of 64 tips off this afternoon. You can catch our realtime captions starting at 12:40 PM on truTV when Iowa State takes on UAB, 1:40 PM when Baylor plays Georgia State on TBS, and at 2:10 PM when Texas Southern will try to upset the number 2 seed, Arizona on TNT.
Our realtime department is busy "warming up" for the tournament. Our realtime steno captioners are vigorously preparing and researching each team's roster, stats, and practicing writing names of the various announcers. If they're scheduled to caption a game, they're ready for anything to happen!
The sports supervisors and realtime coordinators are getting pumped up for their setups of each game: Testing with each captioner 20 minutes before the start of the pre-game, ensuring all of the correct connections to each network and the web, and being ready to troubleshoot at a moment's notice! They also have to keep track of the game clock. A lot of these games run longer than scheduled and are supposed to be immediately followed with another match-up!
And let's not forget about our realtime schedulers who are responsible for assigning a captioner to each and every game! They're true team players!
If you're watching any of the 24 March Madness games on truTV, TBS or TNT in this first week of the tournament, turn on the captions while keeping up with your bracket and hoping it doesn't get busted early!
By Brittany Bender
Monday's the big day!
Caption Quality Best Practices
are effective Monday, March 16th! Here's how we're working with our customers to ensure the four pillars of caption quality are met:
Realtime: We're working with our clients so they can provide us with preparation material including scripts, lists of important names and terms, song lyrics, and rundowns of live programming to the extent available. Our realtime stenocaptioner utilizes these resources to prepare for shows ahead of time. This way, nothing catches them off guard when the show is airing in real time.
To ensure our offline captioners can achieve captions as verbatim as possible
, we're working with our customers to let them know they can send us a script
of their program if it is possible. This is especially helpful if the show features a cast with heavy accents or regional dialects that include terms unfamiliar to most viewers.
Realtime: We're working with our customers to make sure they're sending us quality audio and video via IP, satellite and POTs lines to make sure our captioners are receiving the best quality audio and video. If they're not struggling to understand what is being said, they're more likely to caption quicker.
Offline: We're working to ensure our customers send us the final video, sweetened and as it will be sent to the network, so that our captions will match exactly as it will be seen on TV.
Realtime: If we can receive a detailed rundown and schedule, we will know exactly when a program will end, and ensure we end at the same time. This is especially important for shows which don't run according to a normal clock. For example, NBC's "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" begins at 11:35 PM. The show is scheduled for an hour, but usually ends around 12:37 AM. "Tonight Show" rundowns time out each segment so our staff knows when exactly the show should end.
Offline: Again, final video! If we have the final video as it will air, the full show will be captioned!
Realtime: We're working with our customers to be sure that any lower third graphics are not covered, and any adjustments are not covering foreheads or other graphics. This includes ensuring scoreboards during sporting events are not blocked by captions.
Offline: We're bumping captions out of the way of on-screen graphics and subtitles, so everything can be seen and experienced by our viewers.
If you happen to notice captions that don't seem to be in compliance with the new best practices, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your concerns and we'll work with you to resolve any issues!
Posted on: 2/27/2015 1:54:11 PM
VITAC is thrilled to be captioning The Voice once again. This season is extra special, because we feel particularly close to one of the contestants.
16-year-old Treeva Gibson giving her coaching decision on "The Voice".
16-year-old Treeva Gibson
is fluent in American Sign Language (ASL), as both of her parents are deaf. Her mother is a teacher at the Maryland School for the Deaf and her father is a teacher at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, of which VITAC is a proud supporter. Our Director of Pre-recorded Operations Dina Smith, also fluent in ASL, verified that the ASL in some of the segments matched onscreen subtitles.
Newly-returned judge Christina Aguilera (also a connection - she is from Pittsburgh) was blown away by Treeva's rendition of Lana Del Rey's "Young and Beautiful." Christina said that she was "captivated" by her performance. Blake Shelton was surprised when he learned that Treeva didn't have many musical influence since both her parents are deaf. "I feel like I just heard something that I've never heard before," said Shelton. Treeva spoke and signed her choice of Christina to be her coach during her "Voice" experience.
There's so much wonderful talent already this season, so there's no doubt the competition will be fierce! Check out the full first episode with captions here and make sure to tune in on Monday at 8:00 PM on NBC as the blind auditions continue!
Our last post
explained how video programmer and caption vendor technical contacts can improve caption quality.
Today we will discuss how VITAC complies with 79.1(k)(4)(i) and 79.1(k)(4)(ii) of the Caption Quality Best Practices, specifically offline (pre-recorded) captioning.
What the rule says: Caption vendors must "Ensure offline captions are verbatim," and "Ensure offline captions are error-free.
What the rule means: Our offline captioners must caption exactly what is said.
How the rule helps improve caption quality: Viewers of captions should have the same experience as people who can hear. Our captioners are trained to transcribe everything that they hear, whether it be spoken clearly, with an accent, or mumbled.
VITAC's captioners take multiple approaches to ensure that viewers achieve the best possible understanding of the program when viewing our captions:
Treatment Sheets: Any time our offline department begins transcription on a new series, the captioner builds a treatment sheet. In the offline captioning world, a treatment sheet is a document that lists terms and confirmed spellings that will be used frequently throughout the show. If one of our employees was new to captioning "Moonshiners," and heard the phrase "nip joint," and didn't know how to spell it, they would simply refer to the treatment sheet, where they would learn that is a place to sell moonshine.
Collaboration and review: Should an captioner have an issue hearing or understanding something being said in a program, they have a whole team that they can ask to listen to the problem or phrase right near them since over 80 people work different shifts in our offline department. A senior captioner or one of our offline supervisors may have experience with a certain program or may be familiar with the type of accent or dialect in the series. Many debates have risen over British-accented characters in particular.
Going to the source: We may also be able to get some clarification straight from the show's transcript. If one of our captioners isn't familiar with a term or phrase, perhaps paired with a thick, British or Appalachian accent, we may ask the producer of the show to send along a script, or listen and provide their own interpretation. This is a particularly helpful option when captioning regional dialects, whether they're foreign or even from parts of the United States.
VITAC goes to these great lengths to provide accurate offline captions. The expertise of our offline department along with these methods of verification is just another example of our dedication to quality captions.
By Brittany Bender
Posted on: 2/16/2015 3:52:08 PM
While your favorite actors, directors and musicians are preparing their wardrobe and acceptance speeches for Sunday's Oscars, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been preparing a weekly video web series,
, for almost a year. The series began in May of 2014, and VITAC has been providing the captions for the program since the beginning!
The Academy Originals series takes a documentary-style look into the art, science and creative process of filmmaking in short 2-5 minute videos. There are a few recurring topics such as "Let's go to the Movies," in which an actor views any film of their choice in the academy's extensive archive and analyzes it afterwards. Other themes of the series include "Creative Spark," in which viewers receive a glimpse inside the minds of the artists in front of and behind the camera, and "Day in the Life," that chronicles the behind-the-scenes processes with industry professionals.
Before you tune in to the biggest awards show of the year this Sunday, take some time to enjoy a few of these informative and entertaining video segments. Learn some history, trivia and experiences of what went into making some of the best films of all time. New episodes are available every Monday and can be seen here or on the Academy Originals YouTube channel. To turn on the English captions, click the "CC" icon at the bottom right of the video screen.
Posted on: 2/6/2015 11:46:09 AM
Have you ever wondered where closed captioning comes from and how it gets to your television? VITAC's very own Chief Operations Officer, Chuck Karlovits
explained the ins and outs of the captioning process on 90.5 WESA's afternoon talk show, Essential Pittsburgh
Essential Pittsburgh is a radio show that airs every weekday from noon to 1PM on Pittsburgh's NPR station and features issues that face Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas and often focuses on local business.
Listen to Chuck's conversation with host, Paul Guggenheimer here
or listen via podcast
In preparation for the new FCC Caption Quality Requirements effective March 16, 2015, we continue our series, "FCC Caption Quality Rules Explained".
Our last post reminded networks and producers that any pre-recorded program must have pre-recorded captions by our offline department, not by our realtime department as the show airs live, as stated in 79.1(1)(k)(ii)(C) of the Caption Quality Best Practices.
Today we discuss 79.1(1)(k)(iii)(C) of the Caption Quality Best Practices, Programmer and captioning vendor contacts.
What the rule says:The video programmers must... "Provide to captioning vendors appropriate staff contacts who can assist in resolving captioning issues. Make captioning vendor contact information readily available in master control or other centralized location, and contact captioning vendor promptly if there is a caption loss or obvious compromise of captions."
What the rule means: Networks provide VITAC with the telephone numbers of personnel that can easily assist in the troubleshooting process if there is a loss or potential loss of captions. These phone numbers are available on a technical contact sheet at every desk in VITAC's realtime production department. In turn, VITAC provides the realtime production hotline number to the networks in case any captioning issues arise. Our clients must have this number posted in a common area, such as a control room for easy access and prompt contact.
How the rule helps improve caption quality:
Video Programmers: About 20 minutes before every live broadcast of a captioned program, VITAC's realtime production coordinators perform a caption test with the realtime captioner and the video programmer. Once the test has been verified, captions should appear at the start of the show. However, it is inevitable that technology malfunctions on occasion. Our coordinators verify captions at the beginning of every program. If captions are not present, the coordinator first tries to troubleshoot with the captioner. However, if the problem does not seem to be on VITAC's end, the coordinator must contact the network immediately. Since the video programmers are required to provide qualified technical contacts and VITAC has this contact information readily available, the troubleshooting process is streamlined and captions return swiftly.
Captioning Vendors: VITAC's realtime production department is staffed 24/7, 365. We provide our clients with the realtime production hotline, (724)-514-4053. When video programmers keep this phone number in a centralized location such as master control, they are able to access it quickly. It is guaranteed that one of our coordinators will answer, no matter what time of day or night. Whether in attempt to fix a technical issue, or for a last-minute caption request for breaking news or weather coverage, this phone number will guide video programmers to achieving realtime captions on the air.
VITAC is dedicated to being prepared in any situation. Having video programmer contact information available at every work station and providing networks with the realtime production hotline demonstrates our commitment to caption quality.
By Brittany Bender
In preparation for the new FCC Caption Quality Requirements
effective March 16, 2015, we will be continuing our series, "FCC Caption Quality Rules Explained
" very soon.
VITAC is hearing from many producers struggling to meet the new FCC Caption Quality requirement for pre-recorded programming. Any show that is pre-recorded should have pre-recorded captions done by our offline department, not by our realtime department.
A number of stations and networks are requiring any video recorded more than 48 hours from the air time to be captioned offline. We're accommodating these requests by expanding staff, increasing bandwidth, and offering quick turnaround for both the caption file preparation and encoding and delivery of MPG2/MXF files.
Stand by or contact us for more details.
In preparation for the new FCC Caption Quality Requirements
effective March 16, 2015, we continue our series, "FCC Caption Quality Rules Explained
Our last post focused on a portion of 79.1(k)(2)(ix) of the Real-Time (Live) Captioning Vendors Best Practices: Infrastructure and Support, specifically the people responsible for supporting our captioners and customers. Today, we shift our attention to the systems and technical equipment keeping VITAC up and running 24/7.
What the rule says: The captioning vendors must... " Ensure there is an infrastructure that provides technical and other support to video programmers and captioners at all times."
What the rule means: In order to produce quality captions, a caption company must maintain a state-of-the-art infrastructure that has been tested and is adaptable to constantly changing technology.
How the rule helps improve caption quality:
VITAC takes great pride in a 99.9% realtime captioning uptime rate with no outage. Our clients don't need to stress about the reliability of VITAC's technical components. Our dedicated systems and engineering departments work tirelessly to keep up with all of the elements needed to produce the highest quality captions. While it is understandable that technical difficulties can occasionally happen, our software and hardware set the bar for the caption industry standards and includes:
-IP and Encoder Captioning Capability: All of VITAC's realtime captioners have the capability to not only caption via modem, but to connect via IP and deliver captions in that manner, Many video programmers have recently upgraded their equipment to accommodate IP captioning. However, a lot of networks still use encoders and a modem connection for their broadcast captions. VITAC boasts the ability to use either, or a combination of both. Either mode of captioning is reliable, and rarely disconnects the captioner from the network, so there is minimal loss of captions.
-Satellite and Audio Feeds: Through a combination of satellite receivers, off-air antennas, audio backups and signal distribution, VITAC has access to receive and monitor virtually any program airing internationally, nationally or regionally. We possess a proprietary system in which these satellite feeds are able to be routed to all of our captions via an IP connection so the captioned broadcasts can be monitored in real time.
Audio telephone lines directly from video programmers can be used in conjunction with satellite feeds, or independently when satellite is not available.
Our technical center houses multiple telephone systems that allow us to receive program audio via standard telephone lines, and to patch that feed as line audio to all in-house and remote captioners.
Having redundant equipment allows for the utmost consistency and superior realtime and offline captions. All employee captioners have the same computer setups and encoder/IP settings. This allows for easy troubleshooting by our support staff,
should a problem arise.
All captioners are trained on identical captioning and placement software, which allows for captions to be constantly created in the same way.
Last year, VITAC upgraded the Uninterruptable Power Supply
in our Pittsburgh, PA headquarters. The UPS powers all core critical electrical equipment and allows VITAC to function normally for up to 30 minutes in a total power loss. In that 30 minutes, the backup diesel-powered generator powers up. With this plan in place, it is assured that captions will not be interrupted, even for a second.
VITAC's robust telecom platform allows for further redundancy, with multiple circuits for voice/dial tone and internet connectivity. Both systems include extensive, regularly tested backup paths to ensure once again that captioning can continue without interruption.
VITAC's network, technical infrastructure/support and facilities are all managed with the greatest level of care and have undergone continuous upgrades and improvements to better serve our customers. In this way, we will continue to provide the highest quality captions that can be created and comply with the new FCC guidelines.
By Brittany Bender
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