Our Captions Are Spoiler-Free

Nov 24 2015 David Titmus
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(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 seasons 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…

While the character was identified in the closed captioning, was it indeed a spoiler? It depends.

In AMC.com’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. 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 dissociative 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.