All sorts of shows that aren’t broadcast live use real-time captioning – because it’s cheaper. Or they use scrollup captioning on shows that shouldn’t use it, like dramas and comedies – because it’s cheaper.

You’ve probably seen this yourself – shows you know aren’t live that use real-time captioning, and other shows that need pop-on captions but use scrollup captions.

We’ve seen everything from 30-year-old “classic” football games to late-night talk shows with real-time captions. (Those programs aren’t live.)

  • We see a lot of shows that are real-time-captioned for their first airing. But later, in repeats, the show just reruns the same error-filled, patchy captions. (The show isn’t live anymore by that point. They’re supposed to clean up the errors and fill in any missing words and re-display the captions.)
  • We watch a lot of sportscasts, especially of amateur sports, where captioners weren’t given the athletes’ or competitors’ names up front, so they get mangled or left out completely. (There are a lot of really dreadful examples of this, but the worst we’ve seen are in amateur sports like the Paralympics and in cricket.)
  • We’ve seen many episodes of many different nonfiction TV shows – like talk shows – that were recorded well in advance but captioned in real time anyway.
  • Then there are fictional narrative shows – dramas, comedies, anything that isn’t a documentary or news or current-affairs show – that use scrollup captioning. Most soap operas in the U.S. and Canada have resorted to scrollup, for example. But you often see very-high-budget movies captioned in scrollup, especially when they’re aired in repeats on penny-ante local TV stations. It’s virtually impossible to follow a drama or a comedy when it’s captioned in scrollup. (We know this because we can do a controlled experiment – we’ve got tapes of exactly the same programming captioned both ways.)
  • We’ve even seen scrollup captioning on DVDs. That should not be the type of captioning that is used if consumers are expected to pay for the privilege of watching the programs.

Why does any of this happen? Because broadcasters – who have millions of dollars available to run their channels and start new ones, and sometimes have billions on hand to buy each other out – want to save money on captioning. They view your legal right to accessibility of programming as a “cost centre.” They resent having to pay so much as a dime for captioning. They got in this business to make programming and sell advertising, not to serve the deaf.

And there are no independent standards banning the improper use of real-time or scrollup captioning.

And now we’re doing something about it

We’ve had it up to here with the misuse of scrollup captioning on programming where it doesn’t work (like dramas and comedies, music programming, and subtitled shows). March 2009 is Assault on Bad Captioning (ABC) Month at CAPTIONING SUCKS!, and we begin a (possibly lengthy) campaign to stamp it out – and we’re kicking it off in a way you’d expect, with a Facebook group.