How Robocaptioning Breaks the Unwritten Agreements

Communication is a two-way street. It starts with the unwritten agreements, that communication is worthwhile, that it’s important to us, that we will do whatever we can to communicate with clarity and transparency. Maybe you want to tell a story or impart significant information to someone who needs it. Maybe you’re trying to sell someone something. If your audience or customer speaks English, chances are you’re not going to bombard them with Greek if you can help it. If you and your audience don’t submit to this simple agreement to speak the same language, the effects can be confusing, misleading and even deceptive. True as this is for spoken English, it’s perhaps even more true for closed captioning services.

Say you’ve spent millions of dollars making a film. Every dollar is up there on the screen. Countless hours have been spent perfecting the look, the sound of the movie. But a sizable portion of your audience has difficulty hearing, and when they hit the CC button they are all too frequently confounded by missing words, misspellings and entire dropped phrases.

All of a sudden, your audience is paying less attention to the action on the screen and instead trying to decipher the Greek that has suddenly appeared. Perhaps the producers of the film chose to save a few bucks with robocaptioning, in which voice-activated software, rather than human workers, are employed to create subtitles. The irony here is that while this service is meant to enhance a viewer’s entertainment, it frequently ends up diminishing it. One might even think that the makers of the video are providing closed captioning services only as an afterthought. If they looked at the growing numbers of people in America who rely on closed captioning services, they might realize they’re damaging their relationship with a sizable audience.

Or what if your company makes educational videos? Even more than with entertainment, videos that purport to train viewers are expected to carry authority in their presentation.  What happens to the authority of the teachers on the screen when the closed captioning that accompanies them is slipshod, inaccurate or just plain misleading?