More on Searching Closed Captioned Television and Thomas Hawk, You’re the Next Contestant on the Price is Right!

I received some good feedback today regarding my post about the personalization of television and the need to bring closed captioning into the TV search world. Steven Knoerr who has a blog called Access Excellence actually works in the closed captioning business for Chicago Captioning. Steve brought up some really interesting facts and points.

“I think the captioning industry is coming up to a tipping point because of this exact issue. In the very recent past, captioning was specifically for that portion of the Long Tail– the 10% of the audience that is deaf or hard of hearing (DHH). Unfortunately, because captions are “closed,” it means that people who don’t use them everyday don’t notice when they’re missing. Hence, a lot of content is not captioned. The FCC has ruled that essentially all broadcast TV must be captioned by 2006, which will broaden the scope of available content by quite a bit.”

Steve goes on to point out the problem that a lot of the old programming was not closed captioned or if it was it was done sloppily and would likely yield less productive search results.

“This will work great for programs that are airing from here on out. However, when it comes to old content, there are some major logistical efforts that need to be made.

The first and most obvious is that it’s not a given that older programming was even captioned. And the older captions used a looser, sloppier style than you’d be likely to get today from an agency like mine– you’d find words switched around or changed to entirely different verbiage. It’s permissible today to do some judicious editing (cutting out some words for the sake of reading rate), but the standard is to approach verbatim whenever possible.”

Steve’s company has recently been working with Jeff Jarvis’ Vblogs and has begun captioning work for them. Very, very cool. The question of search for both major programming and micro content should be a rapidly growing market. Steve and his company seem ahead of the curve on this and I suspect that as our ability to continue to time shift and the pool of available content for us to view is expanded that this kind of search technology will become increasingly important and relevant.

I still think that they should release the floodgates of all of the old closed captioned text even if a lot of it is sloppy and wrong, something is better than nothing, but suggest that Steve is right and that there will be a market going forward for companies to clean this up.

By the way, Steve has a really cool flash animated video that he came up with for his company at his blog. Very slick Steve!

And here’s one more business opportunity million dollar idea, speaking of old outdated content with no monetization value that is sitting locked up in vaults and closed captioning. Start by releasing all of the closed captioned text of all of the game shows and talk shows from the last 40 years. And if a game show or talk show didn’t have closed captioning, go back and reindex the names of the guests or contestants manually. Then as people google there own name or search for their friends or parents they could then hit these broadcasts and it would send them to a page to buy a DVD of the show for $29.

My parents were contestants on the Newlywed Game back in 1966. Do you know how much it would mean to me to get a DVD of that. It would be priceless. I’d pay $300 for it easy. How great would it be to Google a coworker and find out that shortly after college they had been a contestant on the Dating Game. There would be a vibrant market to sell this niche content and this is but one way to unlock the value and monetize this otherwise worthless content that is sitting in vaults or at best collecting residuals by running on the Game Show network.

Seems easy enough to do, someone just needs to figure out how. Let me ask you. How much would you pay to get a DVD of your mother, father, brother, sister, spouse, co worker, boss, assistant, best friend or worst enemy? as a contestant on the Price is Right?

I also received some insightful feedback from Simon Mackay over at my same post at eHomeUpgrade. Simon Mackay writes, “One issue that I have with handling TV series is making best use of reruns. A common situation that may happen is that one follows a TV series regularly and may have shown interest in the series at a later stage of its original run or a current rerun. Then the show is usually rerun once or twice on that channel or shown, whether first-run or as a rerun, on another channel such as a cable-hosted repertory-TV channel or a channel received in a different geographic locale.”

Simon suggests that DVRs offer an “episode index” that chronicles recorded programming by episode number so that conceivably it would be easier to watch programming in order. This would be especially helpful for ongoing storylines like the Sopranos, Six Feet Under or most soap operas. Simon also suggests that in the guide data we provide richer background through metadata about the show for search including the location of where the show was set, as well as the historical time setting of the show. I totally agree and know that I’d be very interested in watching programming that was shot in the Bay Area where I live. I know that any movie that is filmed here almost always gets an automatic bump up in the watchability factor for me. I especially like seeing old movies and noticing how the San Francisco landscape has changed. Brilliant ideas Simon. Keep them coming.

Also, Melvin asks if there isn’t some way that DVRs can be smarter. He hates it when he tries to record Houston Rockets games and finds out that because the game went over that he misses the end of the game. I feel your pain Melvin even though I’m not a big sports fan. As much as you hate missing the end of your game, I hate it when I tell my TiVo to record 60 Minutes and the first 35 minutes of the recording are the end of some boring old football game. You’ve got chocolate in my peanut butter and I’ve got peanut butter in your chocolate.

Both your Time Warner DVR box and my TiVo should be smart enough to figure out the “sports” problem and make it so that we don’t have to try to figure out manual run arounds.

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  1. SK says:

    Thomas, I only just discovered your response to my post and my blog. I’m so glad that you found it interesting! A great friend of mine, a San Francisco-based animator named Derek Flood of (Plug: ALL MUST WATCH HIS VIDEO, “EMELIA”), was remarking how, although captioning is a decidedly nonsexy topic, the digital revolution makes it a bit more exciting.

    (BTW, I had to move the “If a Tree Falls” animation to a new post because it unexpectedly was having some issues within Blogger. I’m not exactly an HTML jock, so it’s still a bit hit-and-miss.)

    One other issue involved with old video: It needs to be rescued before it degrades and disappears forever. Ted Turner has an entire channel based on this concept. What will make sense is for the studios to hire companies like Chicago Captioning, and like our strategic partners who specialize in rescuing videos, to save the films and insert the captioning to the digital data in one seamless process.

    Oh, and I’m keeping my eye on your million-dollar ideas. Once one of them pays off for me, I’ll be sure to buy you a steak dinner. With fries!!

  2. Doug Mielke says:

    Further to Steven’s comment, Waihona is one of those companies (a start up) that specialize in content rescue, store as data, transform to many formats and help support and work with companies like Chicago Captioning. In fact, I am at this blog because of Steven!

    Long live content, as you want it, on your terms. Looking forward to a rewarding association with folks like you!


  3. Doug Mielke says:

    Bear with me while I try to delete some very old posts and find out why my most recent doesn’t appear.

  4. Joe Clark says:

    Publishing merely the caption files for old shows isn’t gonna help anybody. It isn’t even technically simple, even at the level of locating the old caption files, which are invariably locked up in proprietary formats.

    On the output side, plain-text files in a unique character encoding are hardly going to be fun to wade through. We don’t have a standard file format for accessibility features like captioning and, Timed Text notwithstanding, we are unlikely to get one.