We've all gotten used to watching video--lots of it--on desktops, laptops and mobile devices. Whether it's an episode of a TV show on Hulu
, catching up on your favorite HBO
series, or just watching YouTube
videos, everyone does it.
Everyone, that is, except those people who need closed captioning to understand and enjoy video content.
That's about to change. On October 8, 2010, the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act
(CVAA), sponsored by Senator Mark Pryor (D-Arizona), was signed into law by President Obama. The Act is intended to ensure accessibility, usage and affordability for disabled persons to broadband, wireless and Internet technologies. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2005, 54.4 million people report some level of disability and 35 million reported a severe disability in 2005.
One provision of the law instructed the FCC
to form an advisory committee to produce a report of recommendations to the FCC for closed captioning of Internet-delivered video. The committee--called the Video Programming Accessibility Advisory Committee
(VPAAC)--consists of representatives of distributors, providers of video programming; vendors, developers, and manufacturers of systems, facilities, equipment and provision of video delivered using Internet Protocol; consumer electronics; video programming producers; national TV organizations; a group on accessibility; and anyone else the FCC chair deems appropriate.
Dr. Ann Marie Rohaly|
Director of Accessibility Standards, Microsoft
Ann Marie Rohaly, who is Director of Accessibility Standards in Microsoft
's standards group and a SMPTE
fellow, chaired VPAAC, spoke to Creative COW about the work of the committee and how close we are to providing closed captioning.
The make-up of the committee, says Rohaly, is to "capture all the stakeholders that are affected by the requirements in the new law," she says. "How SMPTE fits into this is that the committee was tasked with producing a report of recommendations for the delivery of closed captioning for online programming -- and our report recommended that a SMPTE standard be used."
VPAAC met over a six month period, drafted a set of requirements for any standard and studied existing industry standards and technologies before coming to the conclusion that the SMPTE Timed Text standard--also known as SMPTE 2052--was the technical solution that best met the requirement.
BIRTH OF A STANDARD
The move towards captioning online video actually began in 2006 when a group of companies in the industry--WGBH-TV
(Boston), the National Center for Accessible Media
, Microsoft, Yahoo
--formed the Internet Captioning Forum. "They all came together because they realized there was going to be a need for a solution and the forum allowed them to explore the issues," explains Rohaly. "They came to the conclusion that an industry standard would be needed to ensure interoperability along the pieces of the chain and to encourage wide-spread adoption." The group then decided that SMPTE was the most appropriate standardization body to undertake the work and, in 2008, sent SMPTE a project proposal.
The result was SMPTE 2052, a common set of instructions for authoring and distributing captions or subtitles for broadband video content. While it ensures commonality among web browsers and devices, it also allows room for innovation without creating interoperability issues. SMPTE compares it to "companies that develop plug-in modules for Web browsers."
SMPTE 2052 is already used in production environments to repurpose TV content for the internet, and is integrated into the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem's UltraViolet
format as the caption/subtitle format for movie/TV content. SMPTE 2052 is also specified in draft standards for Internet TV delivery in the U.K., France, Germany, Italy and other European countries and is currently used by several video services and internet video players.
To speed up adoption of the closed caption standard, SMPTE made its Timed Text standard available free for download
, with the overview document ST 2052-0-2010, the Standard ST 2052-1-2010, and a FAQ document available.
THE FUTURE OF ONLINE CLOSED CAPTIONING
As to the future acceptance of the standard, Rohaly outlines the path. "Right now, the FCC is writing an NPRM, a notice of proposed rule-making," she says. "There will be a period of time for the public to review the proposed regulations and comment on them. The FCC will then study the comments, revise the draft regulations as they deem appropriate and then issue the final regulations."
Because the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act requires the final regulation to be issued in January 2012, Rohaly believes that the FCC will issue its NPRM in the near future. "They don't have a lot of time between now and January," she says. "They need to leave enough time to solicit and digest comments and update the rules as necessary."
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