Live captioning projects happen at all hours of the day, seven days a week. That’s the nature of live events– they never sleep. In this article, we’ll explore the typical workflow that a live captioning project follows from request to air. So, without further ado, let’s dive into a day in the life of a live captioning project!
When we first receive a live captioning project request, our team assesses the specific needs of the project.
Some common questions asked in this stage:
- What are the accessibility goals for this event?
- Do you want to caption the entire event?
- Do you have an encoder?
- Is this event happening on a web platform (e.g. Zoom, YouTube)?
- Will there be international viewers for this event? If so, do you want to localize the content?
Sometimes, it’s helpful to hold a technical demonstration of our realtime system to illustrate the capabilities and review the user experience. If there’s a need for live translation, this is when the team will clarify the requirements and set expectations on what can be provided, such as our machine translation engine. In addition to having our realtime team discern the client’s accessibility needs, our Sales team gathers the required details about the event: everything from the basic (the date, start/end times, and nature of the event) to more detailed scoping questions.
From there, our schedulers are entering the information into our project management system and reviewing our roster of captioners to determine the best fit for the client based on experience, capabilities, familiarity with the content, and availability. They assign the captioners and confirm with the client that coverage has been secured by a professional live captioner. A connectivity test may also be performed at this stage to verify access to the client’s encoder or web platform.
And now, the preparation for captioning begins, with our highly-trained professional captioners familiarizing themselves with the event and creating a dictionary of key terminology to have on hand while they caption. Our captioners work on a wide variety of topics and genres, and they are experts at researching to build robust glossaries specific to each program. Our live captioners use either a stenography machine or professional speech-to-text software to create the captions for their event, utilizing realtime dictionary software to maintain active control over the accuracy and formatting of the words. For instance, say a captioner is scheduled to caption a baseball game. They’re going to create an extensive glossary of baseball terminology, ranging from the basic— bat, base, outfield— to the specific— dinger, WHIP, fungo. This dictionary will also include a list of personnel involved with the game: rosters of both teams, the broadcasting crew, umpires, and information about the stadium and city it’s located in. Captioners will often layer multiple dictionaries together for a job to build the perfect recipe for a program, such as combining a main dictionary, baseball genre dictionary, and a couple of team-specific dictionaries to be fully equipped to caption a baseball game.
Another important step before live captioning is pre-program testing. During a designated testing block, the live captioner will use their captioning software to connect to the client’s encoder or virtual captioning session. Our team of technical coordinators will communicate with the captioner of when to send test captions, and they’ll confirm along with the client that captions are being properly received. At that time, our captioners are also dialing into audio and confirming with the client that what we hear is correct, be it the sound of the previous program, tone, or silence. This ensures a clean, constant link that allows them to caption with as low latency as possible. While captioning, captioners may be noting things about the terminology being used, continuing to build their dictionaries as they go, or making notes of anything in their writing that they want to review to make future programs easier to caption.
Once the live program begins, captioners are rapidly writing, transcribing what they hear and simultaneously taking notes on the project. Our live captioners interpret the program audio into accurate text by using different techniques to avoid homonym conflicts, create easy-to-read formatting, and capture environmental audio cues such as laughter and applause. The caption data travels to the client encoder in a variety of different ways- most commonly, the caption data is sent to the client encoder via a secure internet link using a specialized connection software; it’s often embedded into Line 21 and is packaged with audio and video files through a data stream. Once it reaches your TV or computer screen, your device decodes that encoded data into the audio, video, and readable caption text we all know and love on the screen. When commercial breaks hit in live broadcasts, captioners use this quick downtime to rest their busy hands, run to the restroom, review the caption file for the current program, and update dictionaries for future use. Transcripts or caption files from a live captioning session can be retained and used for archiving or Video on Demand services, commonly exported as scc, .txt, or .srt files. For clients with strict security and confidentiality protocols, transcripts can be purged immediately following a session as required.
The job isn’t done when the credits start rolling. Depending upon the requirements set by the client, captioners will stop captioning at a designated time or will continue captioning until they can verify that the program is truly completed. Once the project is finished, the captioner will scan through their transcript to make additional notes or modifications to improve their writing for next time. At the conclusion of the event, the notes taken during the program are formally written up and shared with the team, helping us to continually improve our processes and enabling us to quickly react to unforeseen circumstances going forward.
Being a live captioner for an event takes much more work behind the scenes than meets the eye. Beyond the deceptively large scope of their job, live captioners have to be tech-savvy to use all the technology at their disposal while simultaneously processing language to accurately write what they’re hearing at such high speeds, all atop the extensive training each captioner receives towards their unique writing skillset. At the end of the day, it’s definitely worth the extra effort– having these high standards not only creates a better product for our viewers, it also helps set standards for live captioning within the industry to ensure that the professional captioning community has a place where their talent can shine.