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FCC Caption Quality Best Practices: Verbatim Offline Captioning

Posted on: 2/25/2015 9:32:29 AM under FCC Caption Quality Best Practices 

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 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



VITAC Captions Academy Originals

Posted on: 2/16/2015 3:52:08 PM under News 

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,
Academy Originals, 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.



VITAC Featured on Essential Pittsburgh

Posted on: 2/6/2015 11:46:09 AM under News 


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 this week.

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 through iTunes.



FCC Caption Quality Best Practices: Caption Vendor Contact Information

Posted on: 2/5/2015 1:57:06 PM under FCC Caption Quality Best Practices 


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



FCC Caption Quality Best Practices: Quick Update-Offline Captioning, Near-Live Programming

Posted on: 1/30/2015 4:35:04 PM under FCC Caption Quality Best Practices 

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.



Caption Quality Best Practices: Infrastructure and Support Part II

Posted on: 1/19/2015 3:59:23 PM under FCC Caption Quality Best Practices 

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.

-Redundant Equipment: 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.

-Backup Power: 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.

-Telecom Platform:
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



VITAC Captioning Sunday's Golden Globes

Posted on: 1/8/2015 11:40:43 AM under News 


Roll out the red carpet, call the fashion police and turn the captions on! VITAC is captioning this Sunday's Golden Globe Awards live on NBC. Coverage begins with the pre-show at 7:00 PM hosted by Carson Daly and Matt Lauer. Their "Today Show" co-stars Natalie Morales and Savannah Guthrie will also interview the stars as they take the famed walk down the carpet. The ceremony follows at 8:00 PM and will be hosted by the dynamic duo of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler for the third consecutive year.

Our team of production coordinators is vigorously helping the scheduled captioner prepare documents of names of actors, movies, television shows and song lyrics for the show. Realtime captioner Adrian Jonas is no stranger to writing ceremonies such as the Golden Globes. "The most challenging part of writing an awards show is the research that is done ahead of time compiling a list of all the nominees, movie titles, characters and songs and having them at your fingertips so you can write them in order for them to translate correctly," said Adrian. Prepping for the pre-show can be just as challenging. "You have to know the difference between Louis Vuitton and Louboutin since they sound very similar."


On the big night, one of our star coordinators will set up the fabulous realtime captioner with all the proper connections. They'll then perform a test with NBC to ensure captions at the start of the show. The captioner will be ready for anything, with names of nominees like David Oyelowo and Uzo Aduba already in their captioning dictionaries to avoid misspelling them.


Will VITAC-captioned "Orange is the New Black" win for best comedy or musical series? Can James Spader take home the Globe for best actor in VITAC-captioned and favorite "The Blacklist"? How will Amy and Tina top themselves as hosts for the final time? As they say in show business, "there's nothing like live TV," and we'll be there to caption it all as it happens!


The Golden Globe award was born in 1943 when a few writers formed the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) and decided that it would annually honor achievements in filmmaking. The first ceremony was held in 1944. Today, the HFPA consists of about 90 members from all over the world that view and critique international television and film. Golden Globe statues are presented to the top actors, directors, musicians and composers.

By Brittany Bender


Caption Quality Best Practices: Infrastructure and Support

Posted on: 12/22/2014 3:12:27 PM under FCC Caption Quality Best Practices 

In preparation for the new FCC Caption Quality Requirements effective March 16, 2015, we continue our series, "FCC Caption Quality Rules Explained."
Today we discuss 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.

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:
Quality captions are about more than just quality captioners. In order to create accurate, timely, synchronous and properly placed captions, a caption vendor must rely not only on an established, tested and state-of-the-art infrastructure, but also invest in staff to ensure equipment, captioners and programmers are supported on a daily basis.



How the rule helps improve caption quality:
Realtime captioning is high-pressure, high-stress work. Full concentration is needed to produce captions as verbatim as possible matching the program audio. Ideally, captioners need an isolated, quiet area to listen and fully process audio coming directly from the video programmers by phone line, internet connection or satellite. At VITAC, we have dedicated teams of employees, available 24/7 to ensure our captioners do what they do best - caption. Our star supporters include:



-Production Coordinators: Our team of production coordinators works 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is responsible for on-air continuity of over 600 hours of captioning every day. Before every broadcast, coordinators verify captioners are prepared and in position for upcoming programming. 20 minutes prior to a scheduled live program, a coordinator sets up any and all connections needed for the captions to get to air. These include the modem or IP connection that connects the captioner's steno and computer to the network and the audio line the captioner uses.
Once all connections are secure, the coordinator performs a test, acting as a liaison between video programmer and captioner. Not only does the coordinator verify the captions appear without error at the start of the program, but they also double check the captions match the provided audio.


Production coordinators perform many other duties as well. They are by the phone at all times, not only to troubleshoot, but to field phone calls from networks about any breaking news or emergency weather coverage. They also send captions themselves with files of previously recorded or played down shows such as "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon." Many clients also request transcripts of caption files after programs are broadcast -- coordinators transform those transcripts into a file format requested by the client and deliver them on a tight deadline.

Coordinators are on alert at all times to address technical errors and caption outage concerns, ready to troubleshoot within seconds notice. This production team is highly trained in standard operating procedures (SOPs) for all customers and works quickly to ensure captions return to air promptly. They report all technical problems, along with causes and solutions, for later review by our systems and engineering departments.


-Engineering Staff: Our engineering team supports our company hardware by resolving technical issues and maintaining equipment. They are also available 24/7 and committed to keep VITAC up and running. Hardware includes computer workstations, satellites, telephone, encoders and modem lines. They are ultimately responsible for ensuring all equipment at VITAC is operational.
This even includes the power supply and backup generator for emergencies.
The engineers are constantly working in the VITAC technical center that houses over 145 satellite transmissions that allow captioners and coordinators live viewership of captioned work.
They perform tests internally and with clients on new and problem equipment to ensure full functionality so caption connectivity is not compromised.



-IT and Systems Staff: Our systems and IT team supports our network infrastructure, software development and information technology systems. They, like the engineering staff, are readily available to assist and provide support to realtime captioners and video programmers. They work closely with caption software vendors, along with clients on everything from realtime IP delivery of video, audio and captions, to developing solutions allowing captioners to switch on-air without losing captions to network security.
The systems team maintains both our proprietary and licensed software to ensure we are current with standards and releases, as well as responsive to customer and FCC requirements.


In addition to upkeep with our current systems and hardware, the IT and Systems Staff and Engineering staff are constantly testing and researching new technologies to assure the best quality captions and minimize technical errors and outages.


-Realtime Schedulers: Our team of realtime schedulers are responsible for scheduling over 150 captioners for over 600 hours of live programming each day. The scheduling staff ensures every single minute of programming is covered by a captioner, including last-minute requests, overruns and breaking news. They're available 24/7 and are constantly re-arranging the daily schedule to accommodate late adds and emergencies.
Our sports supervisors assist the department by communicating almost hourly with our sports customers and their ever-changing schedules.


VITAC's investment in our realtime support staff demonstrates commitment to improve caption quality on many different levels. We'll continue to do so as the caption quality deadline approaches.



By Brittany Bender



The Gift of Art: VITAC and WPSD Team up for Annual Holiday Contest

Posted on: 12/15/2014 11:16:22 AM under News 

In 2014 we celebrate 24 years of a wonderful holiday tradition with the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. Each year, students from the school submit artistic interpretations of a suggested theme, and send them to VITAC headquarters, where the art is displayed and employees vote for their favorite. We choose multiple finalists and a grand prize winner, and recognize each with a certificate and cash prize during a presentation at the school's December assembly. This year's theme was "Holidays Unwrapped." We're happy to announce this year's winners!


This year's grand winner is Destiny Tanner, age 14. Art and math are her favorite school subjects and she plans to attend Gallaudet University to further her education after she graduates from WPSD. Congratulations, Destiny!


Congratulations to our other six finalists and to all of the WPSD holiday art participants!










Caption Quality Best Practices: Preparation Material

Posted on: 12/11/2014 12:05:04 PM under FCC Caption Quality Best Practices 


In preparation for the new FCC Caption Quality Requirements effective March 16, 2015, we're starting a series to discuss the new requirements, and how they specifically affect captioner quality. We start today with 79.1(k)(1)(ii)(A) of the video programmer best practices, Preparation Materials.

What the rule says:The video programmers must... "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."

What the rule means: Realtime Captioners listen to the program at the same time as the viewer and "write" what he or she hears on a steno machine, similar to those used by court reporters in courtrooms. The captioner's individual pre-loaded dictionary translates their keystrokes into captions. Preparation materials, or "prep" helps the captioner ensure that their dictionary includes the words that will be spoken.

How the rule helps improve caption quality:

-Scripts: Scripts include anything written in advance of a live program, including prompter text, introductions to guests and pre-packaged news stories.The captioners use scripts to identify any difficult-to-write terms or names that may be mentioned. If provided far enough in advance, our team of production coordinators converts the scripts to a file which can be sent as captions by the captioner.

-Lists: Lists include proper names, places and unique terms that may arise in a live program - for example, a list of nominees up for a particular award. Captioners add names like Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai and Oscar Nominee Quvenzhane Wallis to their pre-loaded dictionaries with corresponding keystroke translation and write them correctly when spoken.

-Song Lyrics: Lyrics to many songs are often hard to comprehend by fans, let alone those charged with transcribing every word as sung, and adding music notes. When a programmer sends lyrics to us, we prepare the lyrics in advance for the captioner, who then "sends" accurate lyrics, complete with the music notes, one line at a time.

-Dress Rehearsals: Programs such as "Saturday Night Live" allow VITAC access to their dress rehearsal. The captioner listens in and, with the help of our coordinators, prepares an advanced file for the show. Not only is it a rehearsal for the cast of the show, but also for the captioner responsible for the live broadcast at 11:35.

-RundownsA rundown details the order of a show, including subjects, packages, interviewees, et cetera. Captioners use rundowns to prepare for each segment in advance.

We know that preparation material cannot be sent in advance of every production, and so does the FCC. Because there is no way to prepare for any sort of breaking news, the agency included "to the extent available" language. In most cases though, video programmers should send along this type of material. It will only improve caption quality.

By Brittany Bender


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