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December 15, 2003

New Analytical Study of Closed Captioning Finds Audiences Think It's Important but Improvements are Needed

From: Business Wire (press release) - Dec 15, 2003


First Industry-Wide Study Examines Quality and Use Amid Uncertainty in Federal Grants that Offset Cost of Captioning Programs

The NCI Foundation, the public service, educational outreach, and fundraising branch of the nonprofit National Captioning Institute, today announced the results of a recent study on the state of closed captioning in the United States. The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania conducted the survey, which examined the quality of closed captioning to determine broadcast industry executives' and end users' view of closed captioning and how it might be improved.

The survey, which is the first comprehensive study of closed captioning since NCI launched closed captioning 25 years ago, indicates that while audiences are aware of closed captioning and think it is important, they also believe that captions contain too many mistakes or move at a pace that is not comfortable to read. More than 50 percent of respondents indicated that they have had difficulty understanding missing or scrambled captions and more than 33 percent indicated difficulty due to the captions moving too quickly.

"We thank the entire broadcast industry for its cooperation in carrying out this study," said Dr. Gene Chao, Chairman of NCI and Executive Director of The NCI Foundation. "The NCI Foundation embarked upon this study in an effort to learn how we can better serve those who rely on captions to make television and other video programming accessible. As a pioneer in closed captioning, we felt it was our responsibility to measure how we've done over the past 25 years. The data we've collected will help the industry better understand how to support its end user community."

In terms of genre, the captioning on local news was identified as having the poorest quality. Evaluations of local and national news programs indicate that viewers experience greater difficulty understanding their captions than they do with other types of television programming. In particular, respondents most often complained that at times there is no captioning and the captioning that exists is garbled, delayed or does not reflect what reporters are saying, particularly during live broadcasts.

Further frustrations related to a lack of information about which programs are captioned and the possibility that federal funds to support closed captioning might be withdrawn. Researchers had difficulty finding an accurate source of information about whether programs were captioned, short of actually viewing the programs. The broadcast industry data indicated that they receive very little feedback from closed captioning users, suggesting that viewers are unaware of how to complain about closed captioning quality. In addition, the broadcast industry is concerned about the future of closed captioned programs because Senate Bill 1248 (IDEA) may limit how federal funds may be applied to support closed captioning programs. One of The NCI Foundation's missions is to raise funds to provide closed captioning for shows that would not otherwise be captioned.

The NCI Foundation estimates that more than 100 million Americans benefit from captioned programming. These audiences include 28 million people who are deaf or hard of hearing, children and adults learning to read, and those learning English as a second language. Hearing and non-hearing audiences are most likely to use closed captioning in their homes, although the system is embedded throughout today's society in public spaces such as bars, gyms and airports.

Under the direction of Principal Investigator Dr. Amy B. Jordan, the Annenberg research team reviewed the implementation and utility of closed captioning in several ways: the quality of the programming, the audience's perspective, and closed captioning providers' perspective. For the quality of closed captioning study, samples were drawn from public broadcast, commercial broadcast, and cable television programs randomly selected from 38 channels over four 24-hour periods. The sample of news programs was drawn from the local evening newscasts of six different cities and four different networks and the national evening newscasts of three different networks. 203 respondents (a collection of deaf, hard of hearing, ESL and general adults) participated in the survey of audience perspectives. For the captioning industry perspective, 17 respondents from captioning companies, network personnel and industry recommendations were interviewed.

Copies of the 53-page study may be obtained by calling The NCI Foundation.

With offices in the Washington, DC metropolitan area; Burbank, CA; New York, NY; Dallas, TX; and London, England, the nonprofit National Captioning Institute pioneered the closed caption television service some 25 years ago. Today, NCI is the global captioning leader, supplying the highest quality closed-captioning and related services to the broadcast television, cable and home video industries. The mission of The NCI Foundation is improving access to communications for all. Its activities comprise a growing list of public service, education, and outreach efforts across the United States.


The NCI Foundation
Ben Glenn II, 703-917-7600