How to Repurpose Broadcast Captions for the Web Automatically

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 37 million adults in the United States had trouble hearing (ranging from a little trouble to being deaf) in 2006. These viewers have not been able to enjoy Internet videos because most captions are created only for TV. However, recent changes to FCC closed captioning regulations will require broadcasters to caption virtually all videos distributed over the web within the next couple of years.  

To reach a larger audience and to comply with these new regulations, content creators should begin repurposing their TV closed captioning data files for Internet video. This article will provide a brief overview of repurposing broadcast captions for the web, so you can begin getting your content ready for FCC compliance. 

How are web captions different from TV captions?

Preparing TV caption data files for Internet distribution presents several challenges because the original TV caption files contain special coding, formatting, and timing that are difficult to repurpose.  

One difference between the two formats is the commercial breaks; while TV video files contain commercials, these breaks must be eliminated for web distribution. Once commercials are edited out of TV video files, the captioning data may be out of sync. 

Another difference is the copyright issues that apply to web versus TV videos. For example, copyright laws may prohibit certain music and sound effects from being distributed over the Internet. So, these elements will have to be replaced or simply deleted. 

TV and Web videos differ in length as well. While TV shows typically occur in 30 minutes to one-hour segments (including commercials), Internet videos vary in length. Long videos may be separated into parts, or a two-part video may be combined into one long-form video. So, the video that viewers enjoy from their computers at home may be edited differently from what they saw on TV the night before. 

Is there a standard web file format?

Web closed caption files can include a variety of file formats; however, the video player developer usually dictates which file format is used. For example, many developers use time text markup language or TTML .XML (formerly known as DFXP), for Flash video players.  

While some Internet caption files are very simple and support only basic features such as timing and line breaks, others–such as QuickTime closed caption track and SMPTE Timed Text 2052– are more advanced. These files have the advanced characteristics of TV closed captioning and support positioning and text animation on the screen. 

What options are available for automation and repurposing?

You have a few options available when preparing videos for Internet use. You can create captions from scratch, but it is time-consuming. Using software to extract the closed caption data from TV files is a better solution. Essentially, the video content provider needs the ability to open and edit a variety of TV caption file-formats including old legacy .cap and .TXT files, as well as modern caption files such as the Scenarist .SCC format.  

Converting TV closed caption files to Internet files in batches can efficiently prepare large amounts of data for Internet distribution. Batch conversion can be accomplished within the GUI of the software or scripted with a command-line interface.  

Can I automatically deliver captions to mobile devices?

Since devices like the iPad and iPhone can stream video directly from the Internet, captioning has become necessary even on mobile devices. These iOS devices have the ability to decode advanced QuickTime closed caption tracks that have the same look and feel as TV closed captioning. The iPad and iPhone feature a closed captioning decoder on/off switch that displays any QuickTime closed caption tracks embedded in a video. This closed captioning video playback mobile application comes standard with iOS.  

Some Internet video distributors have created custom video playback apps that support closed captioning files separate from the video. In other words, two files are hosted on the streaming server – the actual video file and an Internet caption file. Most likely, these custom apps were developed due to technical limitations preventing embedding the Internet video file with caption data.  

Using HTML 5 is another approach to creating captioned video content for mobile devices. This approach could potentially be the universal video captioning file format for all Internet-enabled devices. However, as of the first quarter of 2012, it is still experimental and not fully refined. Therefore, many Internet video distributors are still considering other options. 

Repurposing TV closed caption data files for Internet distribution doesn’t have to be challenging with the right software and support. As you search for a solution for your web captioning needs, consider how each option can handle the issues discussed above. 

Legal Disclaimer We have made every effort to ensure the accuracy of this information. We recommend that you check with an attorney to verify its accuracy and how it may apply to your situation.