SMPTE Makes Online Closed-Captioning Standard Free

As the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) prepares to adopt rules for the closed-captioning of online video so that individuals with disabilities can have better access to digital media, the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) has made its standard for closed-captioning of online video content available free of charge.

The upcoming FCC regulations are designed to implement the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) that was passed to make broadband, wireless, and Internet content more readily available to people with disabilities.

The Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT) has the legislation "the most significant piece of accessibility legislation since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990." Among its provisions, the CVAA requires the captioning of previously shown TV programs when they are made available on the Internet.

The SMPTE closed-captioning standard - known as SMPTE Timed Text or officially as SMPTE 2052 - provides a common set of instructions for authoring and distributing captions or subtitles for broadband video content. This design means that TV content providers need only use one method for providing captions rather than having to develop different applications for different Web browsers or media players - including new digital content and previously captioned analog programs.

"SMPTE Timed Text enables broadcasters to expand the use of their existing TV captions into the online media space, while ensuring the preservation of their integrity," said Clyde Smith, senior VP, global broadcast technology, Turner Entertainment Networks and SMPTE Fellow in a statement. "Its use will permit the industry to more rapidly migrate programming with captions to the Web and ensure that all consumers' online experiences will be at least as rich as they enjoy on TV today. We applaud SMPTE for making the SMPTE 2052 documents freely available, as we believe that this step will aid greatly in removing current online media accessibility barriers for those who have special needs."

In 2005, the U.S. Census Bureau found that some 54.4 million people reported some level of disability and 35 million reported a severe disability and the decision by SMPTE to make its captioning standard available free of charge drew praise from the Steering Committee of COAT and other organizations.

"This is an underserved audience that simply wants to enjoy the same kind of online and Web-enabled programming as the rest of us," Jenifer Simpson, senior director for government affairs at the American Association of People with Disabilities added in a statement. "A freely available SMPTE standard will accelerate availability of captioned video content online, benefitting all of us who use captions."