NBC Learn Selects AST for Captioning

NBC News' educational arm, NBC Learn, has been working with Automatic Synch Technologies (AST) as part of an ambitious program to provide closed captioning to the learning videos available at NBCLearn.com that are widely used by educational institutions and students around the country.

AST has already provided closed captioning for about 12,000 pieces of content and continues the work on the 15 to 25 new pieces of content NBC Learn Produces each week, notes Michael Levin, director of sales operations for NBC Learn.

Captioning the 12,000 pieces of video "was a massive effort that I thought would take months and months but turned out to just take weeks," notes Levin in an interview.

NBC Learn moved to add captions to its online content because of the requirements of a growing number of states and educational institutions to make content accessible to all students.

But upcoming Federal regulations make the speed and success of these captioning efforts is notable for broadcasters and TV content providers, who will be shopping for better online captioning systems over the next year.

The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, which was passed in October of 2010, would require closed captioning on longer-form online and broadband video that had been broadcast with captions. The Federal Communications Commission is currently working on regulations to implement the many complex provisions of the act.

"A few years ago the captioning process was entirely manual and that was a tremendous barrier to people both in terms of timeliness and cost," notes Kevin Erler, founding partner of AST.

Speech recognition programs are still not of sufficient quality to allow computers to automatically create transcripts and NBC has been working for some time to manually create transcripts of its videos. 

However, AST's CaptionSync software service, which was used in the NBC Learn project, was able to automate many of the other processes involved in the project.

Besides NBC Learn, which recently won an Emmy for some of its original content, AST also works with a number of educational institutions and growing number of independent producers. "The networks are increasingly requiring them to provide the captioning," Erler notes.

While the upcoming Federal regulations to require online captioning for longer-form content is an important development for the 36 million plus Americans who have some form of visual or hearing impairments, Erler also stresses that captioning has a number of wider advantages.

When captions are added to video content, it makes it possible for search engines to more easily find videos users want and to take them to specific points of interest in the video. That would make those clips more valuable to users and ultimately the content owners seeking to sell advertising or subscriptions around the videos, Erler notes.

"It is not just about accessibility for those who are hard of hearing," he notes. "It really has tremendous value for search and optimization that can extend the value and shelf life of a piece of content."