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DTV Access: A Resource Site for Industry and Consumers
DTV Caption FAQ

What are closed captions?

Like subtitles, captions display spoken dialogue as printed words on the television screen. Unlike subtitles, captions are specifically designed for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers. Captions are carefully placed to identify speakers, on- and off-screen sound effects, music and laughter.

Closed captions are hidden as data within the television signal and they must be decoded to be displayed on your TV screen. Most televisions sold since 1993 contain a built-in decoder chip, allowing viewers to access captions via the remote control.

Who watches closed captions?

An estimated 24 million Americans have enough of a hearing loss that they cannot fully understand the meaning of a television program. This is especially true of the elderly, the fastest-growing category of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals.

Captions enable deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers to participate with family and friends in America's favorite pastime-- watching TV. Captions can also benefit adults and children learning to read as well as people learning English as a second language. Captions are familiar to many hearing people who use them in public areas such as airports, gyms and bars where background sounds drown out audio.

How are captions produced?

Caption writers transcribe a program's entire script into a computer using specially designed software. Caption writers time and place captions, then add or adapt information to give viewers a full sense of the events occurring on screen. Captions are then encoded as data into the program's video, ready for broadcast or duplication.

How are live programs captioned?

Real-time captioning couples the skills of a court stenographer with computer technology. Stenographers type words as they are spoken, producing captions which are broadcast simultaneously with the live program. Some local news programs are using automated electronic newsroom systems to caption, a cheaper though less comprehensive alternative to stenocaptioning.

How do you know if a program is captioned?

A "CC" or "CC" within a television shape are symbols commonly used in television listings to indicate that a program is closed captioned. Another symbol, a small TV screen with a small tail at the bottom, is also used to denote captioned programs.

How much television programming is closed captioned?

Captioning mandates set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) require virtually 100% of television to be accessible via closed captions. While there are a few exceptions, hundreds of hours of television programs are closed captioned every week. Many home videos and music videos are also accessible. Read a summary of the FCC's rules regarding what must be captioned.

Who pays for captioning?

Advertisers, program producers, networks, cable services, the federal government, foundations, corporations and individuals all participate in funding the cost of closed captioning.