SVG Sit-Down: VITAC’s John Capobianco on How Closed Captioning Can Be a Benefit as Much as a Requirement

Captioning offers a new opportunity to connect with fans and grow the audience

Since the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) passed in 2010, requiring closed captioning for all online video, digital–sports-content producers have endeavored to find the most efficient strategy for closed captioning. However, in addition to being mandated by federal regulation, closed captioning presents a valuable new opportunity to connect with fans — whether they are inside a stadium, watching at a sports bar, or viewing a highlight on a mobile device with the sound off.

VITAC is primed to serve the growing closed-captioning needs of sports-content creators after acquiring Caption Colorado’s business in January to create the largest supplier of captioning services in the U.S. SVG sat down with VITAC Chief Marketing Officer John Capobianco to discuss how the Caption Colorado merger has gone, how captioning can be an integral tool in attracting millennials to video on social media, and growth opportunities he sees in the sports market.

VITAC’s John Capobianco: “We do quite a few stadiums and teams. It is interesting to see that all the sports teams, as well as a lot of the event centers, are beginning to line up for captioning.”

It has been almost a year since VITAC acquired Caption Colorado. How has the merger process gone, and how does the unified entity benefit customers?
The merger of the two companies has been very successful. We’ve had a chance to consolidate our operations, and it’s allowed us to [create] a huge pool of captioners, who are the lifeblood of [our business]. I know so many people see captions show up on TV and think they’re magic. As good as the automatic speech-recognition systems have become, they’re not perfect, and captions have to be almost perfect to be usable at all — in excess of 98% accurate. Automatic speech-recognition systems can’t do that. They can’t put in the punctuation or emphasis, so captions have to be done by people to make them accurate enough to be viable. And to do that at scale, you need a huge group of quality captioners.

We have hundreds and hundreds of captioners that work as employees of VITAC. We’re not crowdsourcing, so we can do quality control. And we’ve been able to institute that across both groups of captioners to bring them all in as one VITAC. We’ve been able to manage all of our customers and react to all the instant demands and the emergency broadcasts. It’s been a very good, relatively seamless merger of the two companies, and we’re very pleased with it.

Up to this point, captioning has primarily been seen as an obligation rather than an opportunity for sports-video producers. What new opportunities do you see?
While there are regulatory requirements to do captioning, I think [the industry] needs to broaden its view a little bit beyond that. Instead of thinking of having to do captions, [content creators] should to get into the mode of wanting to do captions.

A lot of [content creators] never think of captions because they don’t realize, innocently enough, that they’re missing a big part of their audience if they don’t . Many people see sports where they can’t necessarily hear what’s going on.

Now you can for the Federal Communications Commission or the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act … because it’s the right thing to do, and you’re legally bound to do it. But, more important, there are about 50 million Americans above the age of 12 that are deaf and hard of hearing.

That’s a big market in itself. So, if you want to get your message across, which you’re spending all this money to promote and you want to get out there, that’s a pretty big group.

As mobile video consumption skyrockets, especially among millennials, how can captions allow content creators to better connect with consumers?
We’ve been doing some new research on this. There are 83 million millennials, and 80% of them interact with social media, and most social media is video. According to Facebook, 85% of videos are watched without sound. That means about 50 million or more millennials are probably watching videos without sound, many of them through their telephones and tablets. They will actually use the captions as indexing as they flick through all the different videos to see whether they’re interested and they’re going stop and look at that video. It’s just an interesting way to think about another big group of Americans.

If you add the deaf and hard of hearing to the more than 50 million millennials who watch video without sound, even though there is some overlap, you’re probably talking about one out of three Americans benefiting from the captioning — whether they’re in a sports bar, whether they’re in a gym, or whether they’re deaf and hard of hearing.

The fact is that putting captions on your production buys you eyeballs; that’s exactly what everybody wants. When you start to think about that, you start to realize there is a real market opportunity here. You have a whole new group of the millennials and the deaf and hard of hearing that you can [reach] by [captioning] everything you do. And those who don’t caption are missing all of those people. It is a new phenomenon, at least for the millennials, which is exactly the audience everybody wants to get to.

By the way, captioning also makes your video addressable and findable for social media because the keywords come out in the captions. So there’s lots of benefits that we’re seeing, and it applies a lot to the sports industry because viewing sports is such an interactive process.

In terms of the sports-specific market for captioning, are you seeing any major trends or growth opportunities?
The captioning side of [sports] is growing by leaps and bounds. Sports is a big growth market for us and something we’re very interested in, of course. We have a lot of experience in the sports industry, which helps out a lot.

We fortunately do quite a few stadiums and teams, and we’ve seen that as a big growing area for us. We have a lot of experience  doing it, and we’re good at it. It is interesting to see that all the sports teams, as well as a lot of the event centers, are beginning to line up for captioning.

It also looks like we’re going to get a shot with some of the new esports teams to caption some of what they’re doing. Again, they are just trying to reach the larger audience of not just the deaf and hard of hearing but also the millennials.

How do AI and machine learning impact the captioning industry, and do you believe that human captioning will continue to be essential to the industry?
We are using AI to help with things like voice captioning. We’re using a trained human to speak to the AI [system], [which] gives a higher level of performance. We constantly look at what’s going on with all of the AI [solutions] in the marketplace because our job is to provide the highest-quality captions on time at a reasonable price. We’re always looking at the best way to do that.

We believe that humans are an integral part of that because the human is the end receiver, and, therefore, making sure that all the contextual knowledge that humans bring to listening and interacting is important. But we’re always looking for the best ways to get the transcriptions done, and we constantly are on the search for the best tools that we can use to produce those high-quality captions. Usually what that means is, how do we produce it and get it to our human captioners that can then make sure that the quality is there and the proper delivery is there?

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