NAB, NCTA want more time to caption online video clips

As the FCC prepares for a July 11 vote that could extend closed captioning requirements to online clips--like online promos for upcoming shows and breaking news blurbs--the National Cable Telecommunications Association (NCTA) and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) asked for more time and lower quality standards for Web clips.

The commission in February adopted new rules for closed captioning broadcast programs that aimed to improve quality. Previous legislation, the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, requires closed captioning on all online programming previously aired on television.

The NCTA told staffers in the FCC chairman's office that it is "unreasonable to compare the quality of captions for an online clip to the captions for a full-length TV program."

NAB agreed, and added an explanation of the complexities involved in preparing captions for online video distribution, according to a Broadcasting & Cable article.

Getting online video captions into the numerous formats needed for delivery via various compression formats and bitrates is indeed complicated, but another issue may be behind the two industry associations' plea for more time: cost and rising competition in the space.

"The time and cost of enabling captions is not substantially less for a 2-minute clip than for a 2-hour full-length movie," the Digital Media Association, a group that represents Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN), Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) and YouTube, told The Hill.

Despite content providers' concerns, putting captions into digital format has breathed new life into the market segment, according to Dotsub Chief Revenue Officer Peter Crosby.

"(Captions are) at the mandate level, which has driven a lot of this. Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) and Amazon Instant were under huge pressure to caption everything. What's happened now is they have all made it to 100 percent and now found huge utility around captions," he told FierceOnlineVideo in a recent interview.

Dotsub offers a cloud-based platform that provides subtitles in multiple languages for online video content.

Metadata is one component of online captioning, and a huge business opportunity, Crosby said. "Captions and subtitles on the Internet are literally objects that can be deployed and displayed in Web pages as interactive transcripts, which makes them absolutely searchable and indexable. For example, programmatic ad (providers) are trying to tag and work with objects so they can get the audience to interact with content," he said.

It's potentially an enormous data stream for content providers, giving them insight into user preferences, views, and their experience "that can be corralled and mined," he said.

Crosby noted that many of the established players in this sub-segment, such as Technicolor, Deluxe and SDI Media, are scrambling to build their own cloud-based captioning platforms and competing with new entrants like Dotsub, Overstream, Viki and others. The rising competition has driven a price drop for captioning and subtitle services of as much as 50 percent.

Technology changes and costs aside, closed captioning online still has a way to go, according to a filing by Public Citizen, the Hill reports. "The widespread lack of captioning on [online] video programming disadvantages and marginalizes deaf and hard of hearing people," the interest group wrote, adding that the problem needs to be fixed.

NAB noted in its presentation to the FCC that some broadcasters are trying to automate the captioning process, and some news outlets already try to caption all of their Web clips.

For more:
- Broadcasting & Cable has this story
- The Hill has this story

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