Metadata gives closed captioning new utility

How accessible is online video to the hearing-impaired and those who speak other languages? Thanks to developing technologies, it's getting better all the time--something we explore in today's feature on closed captioning. We take a look at some of today's closed captioning providers, including startups challenging the captioning status quo.

In the early 1970s, when Boston-based public broadcaster WGBH introduced open captions on its popular program The French Chef, the importance of providing descriptive text below the video image was made clear. The FCC in 1976 set aside a section of the broadcast signal, line 21, for closed captions and standards were developed, but it wasn't until passage of the Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990--along with the Americans with Disabilities Act--that closed captions became a requirement.

That 18-year gap, between captioning's implementation and regulation, is an unthinkable time span today. The growth of over-the-top technologies in the past five years alone has been massive, and older technologies are struggling to keep up with consumer demand.

But being able to access online technologies is a critical issue at the FCC, which in 2012 mandated that previously-aired television programs and movies needed to be captioned for online video viewers, as well. The commission gave OTT providers like Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) and Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) just two years to be in compliance with the new rules.

While bringing online video into compliance has been a bit of a scramble, it's also created new opportunities, both for new entrants to the captioning and subtitling market, and for new business uses of digital captioning files.  

Closed captioning for online video is potentially a gold mine for data analytics, something discussed in today's feature. While privacy concerns and other issues may limit the metadata companies can gather from the use of captioning files by OTT viewers, continued development in the ways that closed captions can be created is driving a bank of new ideas. Check out our new feature here.--Sam