Caption Quality Best Practices: Infrastructure and Support


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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.