Ever Notice How Bad Closed Captioning Is? One Government Agency Is Doing Something About It

Feb 20, 2014  •  Post A Comment

Noting that closed captions on television "are often riddled with typos or incomplete sentences that leave viewers struggling to make sense of what’s being said," the Los Angeles Times’ Show Tracker reports that a key government agency has set its sights on improving the situation.

The Federal Communications Commission is expected to adopt new rules aimed at improving the quality of closed captioning, the story reports.

The report cites as an example a recent weather forecast on WeatherNation that was transcribed as “five wins and a very light power reese know,” which was supposed to say, “high winds and a very light, powdery snow."

“The FCC will require that captions must match spoken words in dialogue and convey background noises and other sounds to the fullest extent possible, according to agency officials familiar with the order,” the story reports.

The report adds: “The order will also mandate that captions not block other content on the screen, overlap one another, run off the edge of the video screen or be blocked by other information.”

The story notes that the proposed changes "sat in limbo for a decade," until new FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who has had the job for just a few months, started pushing to fast-track the regulations.

Thumbnail image for tom wheeler.pngTom Wheeler


  1. This doesn’t require Congressional action. All it needs is for someone to start caring about the quality of captioning. The captioners, as best as I can tell from correspondence with various providers, work under great time pressure and with minimal oversight (i.e., proofreaders). Worse are the content providers who create the captions in house (using interns? often, clearly young people) — unfondly do I remember season 1 of “Mad Men.” More recently, BBC America’s “Fleming” captions have added a degree of high comedy to the story.

  2. Captioning is often done in realtime, but people trained as court stenographers, especially for live and news reporting, tyoing the captions on phonetic keyboards as they listen to the audio, which sometimes can be difficult to hear. I am sure, as in most fields, there are GOOD stenographers and NOT SO GOOD stenographers. The quality of the captioning, I am sure, is greatly impacted by the level of skill of the stenographer involved.

  3. The effort required to create a closed caption file for insertion into the video file is very time consuming.
    The commonly used SCC format is an formatted text data file that is not human readable. The packing of data into a video frame means that the CC data that corresponds to a particular segment of video may not be stored in the frame for the video but could be upto 2 seconds later or earlier.

    It is not so much that the broadcasters don’t care, rather it is that it is so time consuming and costly to do it right that to do it at all seems a wonder.

    Typically someone is listening to the offair feed via a telephone headset and typing on a device that inserts the live type directly into the video stream post studio but pre-transmitter. There is no proof reading possible. As a lot of cable stations have a 7 second delay to avoid any wardrobe malfunction suits, it means that the closed caption operator is already behind the video feed by the time they get the audio. That is why it is so late on the screen.

    Mandating it should be more accurate is a waste of time. Unless you can implement speech to type recognition accurately, then it is unlikely that the quality will improve.

  4. I can see how it would be difficult to close-caption a live show, such as a sporting event, accurately. But a syndicated show such as Mike and Molly which is PRESCRIPTED and been in the can for at least 3 years? Give me a break!

  5. No excuse for any taped & rebroadcast film or show to not have perfect & synced closed captions. Live shows are the only possible excuse for errors and a taped delay should enable the producers to correct some errors.

    But fix the pre-recorded and scripted shows, no excuses.

  6. names and places (particularily on news shows), also need to be included, often replaced with “he, she, here, there”. i understand correct spelling is difficult, but even a phonetic spelling can be searched on “OK Google”, or most any voice search engine, i need CC and not including names severely limits my understanding of what i’m watching.

  7. The white lettering is very hard to read on most backgrounds. The lettering encased. In black much easier to see overall. Thanks!

  8. Why have cc become so bad in the past couple of months? It was awful enough already, but now much of the dialog doesn’t appear at all. You may only get the last half of a sentence now, or a short sentence will not appear at all. And it seems to be across teh board, not just on certain shows or networks.

  9. With the technology available today, there is no excuse except greed for poor cc, especially of pre-recorded shows.
    I can appreciate the difficulty of transcribing live shows, but don’t the reporters have some sort of script, cards or info sheets that could be shared with the transcribers?
    Nonetheless, I’m totally frustrated with these big companies sluffing the responsibility & poor quality of cc off on the middle class worker. Millions of people pay rediculous amounts of money for tv, yet it still comes down to greed. The technology IS Available & should be mandated & monitored.
    Misspellings can sometimes be figured out, delays are very frustrating and make stories difficult to follow, but with the technology available today, THE INCOMPLETE AND UNFINISHED TRANSCRIPTION OF THE INFORMATION BEING REPORTED IS FRAUDULENT and does not fulfill the requirement of successfully providing all the information to the hearing impaired!!

  10. He’s actually in optimum. How would you like to see this over and over every three or four lines which completely ruins the meaning and leaves the phrase incomplete..at a loss for what to do

  11. So here we are years later and ABC closed captioning of the news is laughable. They skip sections of stories. Misspelled words or completely different words. Who can we contact?

  12. It is 2018 and things are worse than ever. Some networks are good. I rarely see mistakes on CNN and that is live. CBS is the worst of the major networks and the absolute worst is Elrey. I rarely watch either because it is too frustrating.

  13. TV land is the worse I no longer am able to watch as everything is all run together it makes no sense. Who do I report this to?

  14. I’m 70 and I Rely a lot on closed captioning. I can’t add anything to the comments I agree with all of them. The worst is watching the news with this spell no names unbelievable words not in contact with anything. I don’t know how long this post is been on but something needs to be done. Thank you

  15. and Google Voice is not far behind. That should have been misspelled

  16. The delay surpasses the Accuracy, now if word recognition is balanced on dialects, phonetic or language? Why havent the programs been directed to the speaker ?
    We did Dragon Speaks 20 years ago.

  17. It is a required option for hearing aid recipients. The sound is attainable, but understanding the persons is gone. I use the CC for most shows. It seems the News IS the worse. The CC is slow, the messages are incorrect. I see a difference in AM news, evening, and late newscasts. I assume it is more the person typing, instead of a glitch in CC.
    I understand there is a lot of
    Information goes into a person’s ear, as it is read.
    Sports is another problem. Slow, quits in plays. Always in question to what just transpired.

  18. MAYBE SOME of the excuses for LIVE TV problems CC hold water but pre- recorded shows, syndicated shows, on-demand, series on HBO even, will have crap CC. Suddenly there will be no CC or you only get it for one character or you get it for a previous scene (or worse the next scene). It’s so frustrating!
    I’m glad I don’t watch sports, I’d lose my mind!

  19. Xfinity/Comcast needs to get better CC stenographers to translate. There has to be a better system!
    Can’t wait to go back to AT&T we never had this issue with CC

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