Closed-Captions Translate News Into Spanish

Hello, or should we say hola! Fourteen stations are broadcasting local news with Spanish translations over the closed-captioning system. The service is provided by Translate TV, a two-year old Ohio company that uses customized technology to translate a station's newscast in real time and pump out translations. Most televisions have such capabilities; stations provide English captioning on one of two closed-captioning channels. Translate TV taps into the second, referred to as CC2.

WLS Chicago is the latest participant, beginning in early March. “This is a wonderful way to reach people who prefer to receive their news in Spanish,” says WLS President/GM Emily Barr. Nielsen Media Research does not monitor closed-captioning usage, so it is tough for stations to measure audience.

Still, local broadcasters are anxious to snare more Spanish-speaking and bilingual viewers, since Hispanics are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the U.S.—projected to account for nearly 18% of the total population by 2020, up from 12.5% in 2000. The dominant players to date: Spanish-language broadcasters Univision and Telemundo. In many large markets, their affiliates also offer news. When NBC bought Telemundo for $2 billion, it acquired 14 Telemundo stations.

Now NBC is starting an independent Spanish-language station Mi San Diego TV 43 in San Diego. In a few other markets, broadcasters use the Secondary Audio Programming (SAP) feed to provide audio translations of their news.

Translate TV's service offers an English-language station a cost- effective way to connect with Spanish speakers. For $100 a day, the company translates a station's local news, weather and sports. Translate TV installs a computer at the station, which handles the captioning.

Besides WLS, ABC O&O stations WABC New York and KTRK Houston use the service, as do affiliates WCVB Boston and WTNH New Haven, Conn. Six NBC stations have signed on: KXAN Austin, Texas; KOAA Colorado Springs, Colo.; WTHR Indianapolis; KVBC Las Vegas; WOOD Grand Rapids, Mich.; WRC Washington. And two CBS stations: WFOR Miami and WBNS Columbus, Ohio.

An independent station in Puerto Rico uses the service to provide English captions for its Spanish-language broadcasts.

Translate TV will work with multiple stations in a market, although the first in a market receives an exclusive period of about three months. A hallmark of the service is that it learns the local language. Before it begins on-air translations, staffers study 15 hours of tape, noting market and station specifics. “We need to customize the dictionary for each station,” explains President/CEO Joel Rudich. In New York, for example, the computer learns that the Clear View Expressway is a proper name. “Clear View” should not be translated into Spanish. Translate TV has patents pending on its technology.

Stations see captioning as more than a public service; it can also be a revenue driver. Local broadcasters are selling sponsorships to fund the effort. In return, the sponsor usually receives promotions announcing its involvement. In Boston, WCVB works with Hummer, and WLS signed up Chicago flooring company Luna Carpets.

National programming is also affected. MSNBC provides Spanish-language captions through Translate TV, as does The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. In New York, Live With Regis and Kelly is available on WABC with Spanish captions, and Translate TV is in talks with the show's distributor, Buena Vista, about a wider deal.

In New York, 617,000 viewers, 10% of the market audience, live in Spanish-dominant households. Says WABC GM Dave Davis, “We realize how important it is to reach a significant portion of our non–English-speaking audience.”

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