Closed Captioning on Canadian Television

Closed Captioning on Canadian Television

It was in 1969 that closed captioning experiments began taking place in Boston, Mass. These were directed to finding a simple but effective way of providing viewers with the option of seeing a transcript of the program’s audio at the foot of the television screen, for those with hearing impairment. The adjective “closed” meant that the words could only be seen at the discretion of the viewer.

In Canada in 1970, the Canadian Association of the Deaf (CAD) secured funding from the Department of Communications (DOC) to begin a Captioned Films and Telecommunications Program for Canada. An International Conference on Television and the Deaf was hosted by CAD in Washington in 1975. In 1978 the CAD hosted two captioning conferences in Canada, and petitioned the CRTC to direct the CBC to initiate captioning. The CAD was successful in securing the allocation of Line 21 on the television signal to accommodate eventual closed captioning.

March 16th 1980 saw the first captioning of programming on the American networks, through the National Captioning Institute (NCI) in Washington D.C. Some Canadian broadcasters began working with NCI to get the closed captioning material for those American programs to which they held the rights.

In 1981, the Department of Communications and the National Film Board partnered with the CAD to create The Canadian Captioning Development Agency (CCDA), the first and for several years the only such agency in Canada. In the same year the CBC started offering some closed captioned programs, and Littlest Hobo became the first Canadian series to be captioned by CTV.

For some time, until networks and later stations began to handle closed captioning in-house, NCI in Washington and CCDA would be sent tapes programs to be captioned. Live captioning was introduced in Canada with programs like the CTV National News being fed live to CCDA to be captioned and fed back simultaneously to the network for broadcast.

The need for live – sometimes referred to as ‘real time’ – closed captioning called for specials skills. These were found primarily among men and women who had trained as court reporters, many of whom were recruited to work at closed captioning agencies and later for the broadcasters themselves. By the early 1990s, the Canadian Captioning Development Agency had outlived its usefulness and was closed down. By then its work was being handled by independent agencies and in-house. By 1993, most television sets sold in Canada had built-in closed captioning decoders.

Under increased pressure to caption more and more Canadian programming, broadcasters began seeking sponsors specifically to help fund this initiative, and a federally-registered charity named Canada Caption Inc. (CCI) was formed to help attract sponsors. This eventually resulted in the introduction of 10-second billboards stating “Closed Captioning for this program is brought to you by…”

In 1995, following discussion on the subject at one of its hearings, the CRTC issued a Public Notice (1995-48), in which it articulated its policy with respect to Closed Captioning. Requirements for some degree of closed captioning had been included in prior licence renewals, but interveners at the hearings, including the Canadian Association of the Deaf (CAD,) had argued strongly for a substantial increase in the amount of programming being captioned.

The Commission was sympathetic to these arguments, while recognizing that with current technology and logistics it would be unreasonable to require 100% captioning at that stage. The CRTC therefore announced that it expected that 90% of all programming to be captioned by most stations within the next seven years, with earlier requirements in respect of news programming for large and medium sized stations, and it encouraged smaller stations to aim for the same objectives.

In 2002, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) assembled a group of member representatives to create a document titled Closed Captioning Standards and Protocol, an authoritative guide to Canadian English closed captioning for television.

In 2007, under Public Notice 2007-54, the CRTC announced a new policy with respect to closed captioning that would require all Canadian television broadcasters “…to caption 100% of their programs over the broadcast day, with the exception of advertising and promos”. At the same time, the Commission recognized that the requirement needed to take into account the inevitability of equipment malfunctions, human error, and circumstances where captioning might simply not be available, usually from foreign sources. The new requirements would be imposed for implementation within a given period from each subsequent licence renewal.

Consequent on the CRTC announcement, the CAB confirmed to the CRTC in December 2007 that it would assemble two working groups, one English and one French, to develop an Action Plan for the implementation of the Commission’s new requirements, under the following three headings:

  1. Develop universal standards that address captioning quality, including consistency, style and matters raised specifically by the CAD in their intervention, together with any other concerns deemed appropriate to be addressed by the working groups themselves.
  2. Develop concrete, workable solutions with respect to other aspects of captioning quality, including the reduction of errors, technical problems, dropped or garbled captioning or captioning that is cut off by commercials or similar concerns.
  3. Develop for consideration the differing technological approaches employed by various broadcasters.

The two groups each met several times during 2008, and filed a preliminary 12-page report with the CRTC on December 2nd 2008. A final report was promised for February 3rd, 2009.

On July 21st 2009, the CRTC issued a Notice on Broadcasting and Telecom Regulatory Policy, which addressed unresolved issues related to the accessibility of telecommunications and broadcasting services to persons with disabilities. It included a direction to television broadcasters to improve and control the quality of closed captioning, including in digital formats, and expressed the Commission’s intention to impose conditions of licence in those areas at the broadcasters’ next licence renewals.

Regarding the aforementioned Working Groups, the CRTC stated:

“The Commission considers that it is important that the Working Groups continue and that their membership be extended to better reflect the interests of users of captioning and BDUs.

Accordingly, the Commission extends the mandate of the Working Groups and directs them to file the following for approval by the Commission:

Administrative procedures, including:

  • A breakdown of costs and funding for each group as a means to address the funding of high cost elements of the Working Groups’ activities. The report should reflect the fact that not all participants have the same financial resources or are affected equally by the standards developed by the Working Groups.
  • The means by which meetings are conducted and facilitated, taking into account the Canadian Association of the Deaf’s concern that it has been unable to participate as an equal member in the meetings of the English-language Working Group.
  • A revised membership composition for the Working Groups that includes additional representatives from user groups as well as BDU/satellite relay distribution undertaking (SRDU) representation. The CRTC will continue to participate in the Working Groups.
  • An action plan with specific timelines regarding each of the deliverables set out in this Regulatory Policy.”

On March 18th 2011, the French language working group, FL-CCWG, submitted its final report to the CRTC, in which it stated that it had reached consensus on the proposed standards. The working group’s report divided the standards into two categories: (1) “mandatory standards” that should be imposed as conditions of licence, and (2) “universal standards” that it suggested are more appropriately considered as best practices or guidelines and that should not be imposed as conditions of licence (henceforth to be known as guidelines/best practices).

On August 15th 2011, the Commission called for comments on the proposed French-language Closed Captioning Quality Standards filed by the French-language Closed Captioning Working Group. The deadline for comments was 14 September 2011. The deadline for replies was 26 September 2011.

On August 15th 2011, the CRTC also announced that, following receipt from the CAB on February 10th 2011 of the final report of the EN-CCWG, in which the working group indicated that it had reached consensus on the majority of issues relative to closed-captioning of English-language programming, and specifically those relating to the appropriate format and speed for live, pre-recorded programming and children’s programming , the Commission asked for comments on, among other things, the appropriateness of the proposed standards for the English-language market.

This would include the extent to which the Commission should apply the standards proposed by the FL-CCWG, as described in Broadcasting Public Notice 2011-489, in the English-language market for items where the EN-CCWG was unable to reach consensus.

On September 16th 2011, and further to their Broadcasting Notice of Consultation 2011-488, the Commission reported that it had received received a request for an extension of the deadlines for the submission of interventions and replies regarding its call for comments on the new English language closed captioning proposals.

Having considered this request, the Commission announced that the deadline for the submission of interventions had been extended to 28 October 2011 and the deadline for the submission of replies had been extended to 7 December 2011.

On December 1st 2011 the CRTC approved the mandatory standards for French-language closed captioning set out in the appendix to their regulatory policy 2011-741. The Commission further directed the French-language Closed Captioning Working Group (FL-CCWG) to submit an updated version of the standards by 7 January 2012 to reflect the changes identified in the policy, as well as to ensure that the mandatory standards were clearly identified as such.

The Commission would address the issues of enforcement, monitoring compliance and whether the mandate of the FL-CCWG should be extended, at a later date.

On 21 February 2012 the Commission approved the French-language Closed Captioning Working Group’s (FL-CCWG) proposal for the imposition of mandatory standards regarding monitoring of the accuracy rate of captions. The Commission had added these mandatory standards to the previously established closed captioning mandatory standards. The revised standards were set out in the appendix to that policy, Broadcasting Regulatory Policy 2011-741-1.

The Commission concluded that applying the mandatory standards for French-language closed captioning as conditions of licence was the most appropriate method of enforcement at that time. However, the Commission noted that if the broadcasting industry were to propose a self-regulatory mechanism that met with Commission approval to administer the standards, it would be prepared to consider applications to suspend the application of these conditions of licence for participating broadcasters.

The Commission requested that the FL-CCWG continue its work in the area of French-language closed captioning quality and report to the Commission on its progress when appropriate or upon request by the Commission.

Finally, in order to provide the French-language broadcasters with an appropriate amount of time to prepare for the implementation of those mandatory standards, the Commission established 1 September 2012 as the date on which the mandatory standards would come into effect.

On July 5th 2012, the CRTC published Broadcasting Regulatory Policy CRTC 2012-362, in which the Commission approved the mandatory quality standards for English language closed captioning set out in the appendix to that regulatory policy. These standards would come into effect on 1 September 2012.

The Commission directed the English-language Closed Captioning Working Group to submit an updated version of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Closed Captioning Standards Manual by 4 August 2012, that would reflect the changes identified in that regulatory policy. This was duly done.

As of September 1st 2014, all advertising material, sponsorship messages and promos were required to be closed captioned prior to broadcast.

Effective September 1, 2014, Telecaster services of the Television Bureau of Canada (the former Telecaster Committee of Canada), became responsible for screening advertising material (including sponsorship and promotional messages), and commercial material for closed captioning prior to providing final clearance.

The Telecaster Committee was formed in 1973 by private broadcasters as a voluntary, self-governing, commercial, infomercial and public service announcement (PSA) clearance committee, which provided one single agency responsible for approving all such material for broadcast over all outlets.

On 2 November 2016, the CRTC issued the following statement of Regulatory Policy re English-language closed captioning quality standard related to the accuracy rate for live programming:

“Canadians who use and rely on closed captioning to watch English-language television programming should have access to the highest possible quality of closed captioning in live programming.

Broadcasters are required to abide by established quality standards when providing closed captioned programming. One of these standards relates to the captioning accuracy rate for live programming.

In Broadcasting Notice of Consultation 2015-325 (the Notice), the Commission called for comments on the effectiveness, measurability and achievability of the English-language closed captioning quality standard related to the accuracy rate for live programming.

Following the call for comments, a group of broadcasters voluntarily formed a working group (the 2016 Working Group) with representatives from an advocacy group for captioning users, closed captioning providers and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology to look into the issues raised in the Notice. The 2016 Working Group submitted a proposal for a trial to develop and test an alternative method to measure the captioning accuracy, with a view to improving the quality. The working group requested that the Commission temporarily suspend the requirement that broadcasters reach a given captioning accuracy rate for live programming during the trial.

As a result of this constructive and collaborative initiative, the Commission will suspend the requirement that broadcasters achieve a captioning accuracy rate of at least 95% for live programming until 31 August 2019 to allow the 2016 Working Group to conduct a trial of the alternative method of measuring captioning accuracy. During the suspension, all programming will continue to be captioned and the methods used to provide captioning will not change. All other quality standards continue to be in effect. Further, the Commission still expects broadcasters to meet the quality standard related to the accuracy rate for live English-language programming during the trial period.”

As part of this process, Broadcasters continued to meet with the caption consumers and caption providers during the trial period to develop a joint proposal on how to assess
captioning accuracy and quality, which would be submitted to the CRTC in November 2018. The CRTC also required broadcasters to work with stakeholders on an educational outreach plan that would educate consumers on how live captioning is performed.

A video explaining the techniques and limitations of live captioning by AMI, with input from CAB, CBC and captioning consumers, is now completed and will be going into distribution very shortly. The broadcasters are also providing support to a research project of the Canadian Association of the Deaf, funded by the Broadcasting Accessibility Fund, into the subjective preferences of consumers on closed captioning.